John Lurie ditches his
sax for the paintbrush in A Fine Example of Art.
By A.D. AMOROSI
The whats of John Lurie — saxophonist, composer, actor — and
his watercolor art works are only half as important as the whys. In this case it’s
that the lanky Lounge Lizard, film scorer (Get
Shorty) and the face before Stranger
than Paradise and Down By Law, upon
finding himself sick with a neurological disorder halfway between Lyme disease
and malaria, withdrew from music only to find himself within his first love:
That Lurie’s colorful watercolor washes and their frazzled
lines are distinctly and radically different from his music’s noirish angular
Bop and frantic free jazz isn’t a surprise. He’s always been funny. He’s always
piled on. The shock is how playfully fuzzy, squooshy and dreamy his paintings
are in A Fine Example of Art,
published by Powerhouse Books (www.powerhousebooks.com)
and featuring essays and text by Glenn O’Brien, Steve Buscemi, Carter Foster,
Flea, James Nares, and Stephane Aquin.
There is something of a blurrier Red Grooms and cloudy cave
painting to his characters – big ear bunnies and bunny-fucking adults – that
give them a primitive earthiness. But make no mistake. They are exacting while
being blobby and splashy (“Everybody Loves Sardines,” “My Trip to the Country.
Birds Fly Up”). There is a Miro-like mosaic quality to some of the paintings
(“Man in a Park with Meter”) and a shaman-esque wizardry that re-contextualizes
some of the dreamscape mythologies within. Though Lurie spells out his
situations with simple text (a line-like painting “Soldiers Need to Have Sex”)
as if to mask the whole’s over-awing symbolism (“Haitian in His Apartment”),
make no mistake. Even Lurie’s silliest works seem eerily cryptic and private –
something, that like his eeriest blaring-est music, speaks proudly and
sensually to himself while inviting you in on the chatter.
BLURT: Is it
necessary that your watercolors’ inspiration come from a separate place than
that of your music? Is there something shared?
JOHN LURIE: No it pretty much comes from the same place. At
least, the best of it, the part that comes without any thinking involved, comes
from the same place.
Was it an instinctual
or organic notion to paint or was it connected to being home more often than
not while ill? I ask primarily because I’ve interviewed you in a musical
setting and a filmic setting and I don’t ever remember you saying, “And I paint
Wouldn’t I have sounded like a jerk if I said, Oh I paint
too? I am so talented.
Are there works that
you’ve painted that come directly from the delirium of being sick, ideas
prompted directly by being ill?
There is some neurological weirdness that leads to painting.
I was having a lot of visual disturbances at one point. Often I would lie down,
close my eyes and be greeted with a combination of colors that would compel or
demand that I get up and put them down immediately. Also, being trapped in
here, I was kind of making windows for myself.
Are you still
trapped? Have you been concerned that if you weren’t the images would go away —
as if there was some sort of psychic/spiritual tradeoff; one’s health for the
ability to create a wildly singular vision?
No, that doesn’t concern me. I have never had a problem creating. In any case,
I would much prefer to enjoy life.
Why the primitives
that you do? Or do you not see your work as naïve?
I don’t know, is it primitive? Maybe it is.
Do you feel like painting saved your life; your mental, physical, even
It definitely did for a while. Then it
met the art world.
Why? Has being in
touch with the commercial art world — as it has been with music and cinema —
enough to keep a man sick?
Stress is very bad for anyone. But for
me it’s almost impossible. Causes flat out pain in my nervous system.
Did you have a bad
time with animals as a child? And spirits? Your creatures are troubled. Even
your ghosts have ghosts?
No, I loved animals as a child. I wanted to start my own
snake farm when I was seven. I like the idea of ghosts having ghosts.
I know I’m not
supposed to ask, but is music in the cards for you in the near future? Not
because that’s how some people know you. Rather, because you’ve created
dramatic, humorous, emotive, engaging work and there’s not a lot of that
It would not appear to be possible and if it were possible
what would I do with it?