Paul Stanley on Art, American Idol & His Band's Latest "Comeback"
With KISS having recently come off of a huge stadium tour across South America, Paul Stanley continues to keep busy. About ten years ago, as the result of a divorce, a friend suggested he try painting as a cathartic way of helping to express his emotions. He went and purchased brushes and canvasses and he’s been at it ever since. Stanley has never been one to stand on the sideline. In the past he’s played the lead in the Phantom of the Opera in Toronto and toured on his own in support of his solo release “Live to Win.” He's currently producing the forthcoming KISS album, the band's first release of new material in eleven years, and continues to show his art work at Wentworth Galleries across the country. He recently took time out of his hectic schedule to speak with us.
Between touring with KISS, producing the new album, your growing family, your artwork, you’ve got a lot going on.
It’s been busy. Four months ago I had a little baby girl. Other than that we just finished a stadium tour of South America playing to anywhere from forty to sixty thousand people a night. Before that we did our biggest, most successful tour of Europe playing seven weeks, thirty shows to over four hundred thousand people. Then, I’ve got my art shows, which are normally once a month in different cities and I’m about a week from completing the first KISS album in eleven years which should be out in September. Other than that, I’m taking it easy!
With regards to your artwork, having begun to paint as a way to express emotions from the divorce ten years ago, with that now well behind you, has your approach changed with so many positive things going on in your life?
Any creative outlet will come from whatever inspiration or desperation happens to be going on. Certainly as life evolves you hopefully draw from other experiences. My life, it couldn’t be a better story if I wrote it myself, so there’s no shortage of inspiration. I tell people; “If you’re not inspired every day when you wake up then you should either go back to sleep or change your life.”
You titled some of your early paintings relevant to where you were emotionally at that time (Starting Over, Scream, Alone), but that has changed as time has moved along (Celebration, What Lies Ahead, The Angel).
No doubt that there are bound to be some gloomy days, although I haven’t experienced them in quite a while. I seem to find myself painting from a different vantage point. There are paintings like What Lies Ahead, The Mirrors Image, things that are reflective of where I am today and where I see me headed. The great thing about it, I think the other pieces, is that other people relate to it. It’s not something that I have a monopoly on or something that is solely mine. I’ve always found that the beauty of abstract art in particular is that it really illicit its own unique response in each person and that’s what makes it valid. That’s why I tend to tell people, “I can tell you what a painting means to me but ultimately it’s much more important what it means to you.”
I’ve always liked what you’ve said with regards to listening to other people’s opinions when it comes to art: “If you yourself like something, that’s all that matters. Other opinions are not necessary.”
I think that’s all a part of snobbery and elitist propaganda, which is designed to intimidate you into needing someone else to tell you what’s good and bad. The problem with that is you’re basing your opinion on what somebody else decides is credible or not credible, worthwhile or not worthwhile. If you love steak and somebody else is a vegetarian, what good is either opinion to the other? You just respect them as individual and as separate. Some people have talked to me about the “Art World.” I don’t really want to be a part of the art world. Anything that cuts itself off and identifies itself as separate is the antithesis of what I want to be. When I did Phantom of the Opera, hopefully I brought people into the theater besides the regular theatergoers, who, up until that point, may have been intimidated into thinking that theater is a while glove affair for snooty people. Theater didn’t begin like that! Theater was done in public squares. So if my art or my theater is an introduction for somebody to how much great creativity there is in this world, then I’m doing a great service.
Two of the more interesting pieces you’ve worked on were your updates to the Statue of Liberty and the Mona Lisa. Those were pretty cool.
Yeah, I like those a lot. They mean a lot to me, particularly the Statue of Liberty, having grown up in New York and my mother having come here from Germany and my grandparents coming from Poland. The idea of people pulling into the harbor in New York with these great dreams of anything being possible and working towards a success they hadn’t known in their previous countries is something that makes America so unique. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of it and my success is a symbol of it. I am a product of the American dream. This is a great country that makes it possible for anybody who works hard to succeed. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, it just means you can judge how much something means to you by how hard you’re willing to work to acquire it and America gives you that opportunity. The Mona Lisa, on the other hand, is something that we’ve all seen and it is iconic. I just remember seeing it when they brought it to the States when I was a little boy and I was surprised how small it was. It’s beautiful in its original form. I just thought, how about we give her an extreme makeover and pull her kicking and screaming into the 21st Century?
You’ve also begun to work with sculpture a little. Tell me about your interest in that?
I’ve always wanted to do large metal sculpture, and my introduction into it is the pieces that I’ve been doing, which are fairly organic. They’re over-spill from bronze casts of sculptures that I’ll find and then have welded together and buffed to a patina as I see fit. That will lead next to some other sculptures, but for me the door is wide open. I am a person who tries to define myself by the challenges that I take on and
I’m constantly excited and inspired.
The band is obviously going very strong. How cool was it for KISS to be a part of the recent finale on American Idol?
American Idol was terrific. When you realize that the biggest shows on TV get a viewership of around nine million people a show and American Idol gets between twenty-four and thirty million, it’s a phenomenon, unlike regular television! Just being on that show is a wake-up call and an eye opener to a lot of people of what rock can be. We are a spectacle proudly, and when we hit the road again on our U.S. tour we’ll have a great new show, a terrific new album– easily the best new album we’ve done since the ‘70s– and we’re fired up. It never ends.
Any chance you’ll be designing the cover of this forthcoming KISS album?
I have overseen the cover from a sense that I had a direction that I wanted to see it going, and that’s what we followed, although I didn’t do it personally. I produced the album. This is an album where I had a very keen sense of what I thought it should be and shouldn’t be, and it’s turned out to be exactly what I had in mind. The band’s never been more “up” about something, and rightfully so. It’s a terrific album.
KISS is scheduled to play shows in Canada before returning to tour the States. Having done the huge stadium shows in Europe and South America, are you looking forward to a U.S. tour?
We will hit the Atates. There’s actually a fun little diversion going on right now where people get to vote for us to come to their city by going to www.kissonline.com. There’s a button you can press where you can vote for your city, and the cities with the highest vote per capita are sure to be on the itinerary.
Paul Stanley will appear at the Wentworth Gallery location at Phipps Plaza on Friday, July 31st and at the Perimeter Mall location on Saturday, August 1st. Call 404-233-0903 or 770-913-0641 for details.