Painting Full-Throttle: The Art of The Kills’ Singer Alison Mosshart (@amosshart)
To see more of Alison’s paintings, head over to @amosshart on Instagram. For more music stories, check out @music.
Last year, Alison Mosshart (@amosshart) was looking for inspiration. Captivated by skid marks on asphalt, the lead singer of The Kills was determined to recreate them in her artwork. Her first idea was super rock and roll: drive her baby, a Dodge Challenger, through paint and over a ream of canvas, thus uniting her two loves of muscle cars and art. Unfortunately, it also would ruin her ride, so she nixed it. The second was rolling a spare tire around manually, a much easier idea to execute in her Nashville home studio. Then she realized without weight on the tire, she couldn’t get skid marks.
Which is how she found herself in a Toys R Us late at night, inspecting the treads and wheels on remote control cars like a fifth-grader composing a Christmas list.
“I got a bunch of monster trucks and went home. I turned into this madwoman driving a car around the studio, laughing to myself like, ‘This is the most fun ever!’” she says, while sitting in a booth at Los Angeles’ Café 101 and chewing on the straw in her iced tea. The finished tire paintings comprise much of her upcoming gallery show in New York.
Though Alison has been burning up stages alongside Jamie Hince in The Kills for over a decade, and Jack White in The Dead Weather since 2009 she’s been drawing since she was a little girl in Florida. Her mom, a high school art teacher, discovered she could plop Alison down with a packet of magic markers and keep her content for hours.
“I’ve been doing [music and art] forever — they feel like the same thing,” she says. “Painting and drawing is a part of waiting. I’ve been on the road touring since I was like, 14. Twenty-two years straight — so all my artwork is suitcase-sized.”
Until recently, her artwork was most prominently displayed in her mom’s attic. But when she bought her house in Tennessee, she designated a big room with lots of windows the “complete crazy chaos music and art room.” When friends visited and saw her paintings strewn on the floor, they told her she should start posting them. Within a week, she was offered her first gallery show in New York.
“I could not believe it,” she says. “This is insane. I just posted pictures of paintings!” She’s a prodigious poster, much to the delight of her fans, and even shares the stuff she hates.
“If I don’t like a painting, I’ll paint over it. My mom liked one I thought was so awful,” she says, pointing to a recent piece. “I posted it, still hated it. Painted over it and posted that and she was like, ‘Bring the other thing back!’ It’s too late, Mom. I hated it anyway!”
Her modesty is charming, but it’s not exactly a surprise that the art world, just like the music industry, has been receptive to her work. The inspiration for both comes from the same place. “The same feeling that makes me want to paint something is the same feeling that makes me want to write a song,” she explains.
With painting, “everything is really fast. Fast, fast,” she says, as opposed to her work in The Kills. “It’s a pretty long process with me and Jamie because there’s just two of us. Everybody has to do everything. It’s a lot of work,” she says.
That duality and state of flux play out in her drawings, too, many of which contain two or three or 23 faces, an eye bugging out here, a tongue sticking out there, as if different parts of Alison are fighting for the final say by way of brushstroke. “I can’t stop painting faces. That’s all that comes out,” she says. “There’s a lot of changing of the mind going on. That’s why things always have like three eyeballs.”
The one change she’s not so comfortable with is the lack of a place to retreat at her exhibit openings. “I’m quiet,” she says. That’s true in the literal sense — she speaks in such a gentle tone the diner’s lunchtime din nearly drowns out her voice. But her music, and now her art, is quite the opposite.
And with that, Alison drains her tea, smiles politely and ducks out the front door. Safe bet she left at least one set of tire tracks in her wake.
In 2000, I was in another band and she was staying in the apartment below. She would sit outside my window and listen to me play guitar, a bit like a stalker. When we first met, she was painfully shy. She’d grown up in a skate scene in Florida so she wasn’t really aware of any bands. It felt incredible to be able to introduce her to the music I loved. She absorbed it all and loved it all. The first time I saw her perform was like watching Patti Smith for the first time. This awkward little sparrow on stage just had so much confidence and was obviously so comfortable performing. It was fascinating. I thought if I was going to be in another band it was going to be with her. She’s my best friend and has been in every aspect of my life. —written by Jamie Hince on Alison Mosshart