Paul Stanley

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Art has always been the one entity that can truly touch the soul and relax both mind and body. Exceptional artists are ones who embrace their art and make it extraordinary. Singer/Songwriter/Artist Paul Stanley exemplifies this. Fronting legendary rock band KISS since their formation in 1973, he has been showing the world just how talented he is, not only with his music, but with his art, acting, and KISS designs, from their stages to their merchandise. Now, Florida fans will have the opportunity to see Stanley’s artwork on February 23rd at the Wentworth Gallery Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, and on February 24th at the Wentworth Gallery Boca Raton Town Center Mall.

Catching up with this 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee while he took a quick break from painting, he revealed some details about his art, about his acting, what led him to be where he is today, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with the Wentworth Gallery shows?
Paul Stanley: Well, it’s a bit more complex than that because over the years, I’ve built a very diverse group of collectors and certainly there are fans from KISS and from music that are part of it. There is also a large segment that collect other artists, and I’m certainly flattered to share wall space with the people who take those pieces home. So, I think for those who aren’t familiar with my art, it’ll give them a chance to see another side of me and also perhaps will, I don’t know, stimulate them to find their creativity. Certainly, there’s a segment of the public that has been intimidated into believing that your opinion doesn’t mean anything unless its educated, and that is something that’s propagated by people whose livelihood became from telling you that. A critics opinion of anything, be it music, food or art is irrelevant to an individual, really because everybody’s taste is subjective. If somebody loves a certain food and you don’t, I would dare say that your opinion is valid. Same goes for art and music. It’s all a matter of individual taste. I try to tell people who haven’t experienced art or theater that you don’t need a degree or some else’s input to decide what you like. I think that ultimately doesn’t serve the art community well, or the fine art community well. So, for some people yes, it’s an introduction to my art and to a sense of what we’re all capable of if we just give ourselves the license to find means of self-expression. That’s a long answer for a very short question.

SFL Music: That’s a great answer! I saw that there will be your hand painted Ibanez guitars and your mixed media, as well as limited-edition artwork including some metal. Now, I know mixed media is made of more than one material. What is your mixed art composed of?
Stanley: Mixed media originals as they’re called, those tend to be another way of taking what we call giclée’s which are high-res scans that are then put on canvas and virtually replicate an original image, and mixed media in this sense means adding paint. So, each one becomes an original because I paint on them.

SFL Music: Like the “Detroit Rock City” portrait?
Stanley: Well, there are ones that are giclee’s and then there are ones that I’ve added more paint to. People have said that I’m fearless with color. And to that I say, what is there to be afraid of? I think that color is a reflection of life and if you’re living a vibrant life, you should depict it with vibrant colors. So, it’s just an affirmation to me of what my life is like. So again, you know, I don’t want to go Yoda on you (he laughed).

SFL Music: What inspired you to return to painting ten years ago?
Stanley: It’s actually been twenty-three years now. I was going through a divorce and my best friend said to me, “you should paint” which really threw me for a loop because it was not what I was expecting to hear, but somehow it resonated, and I went out and bought canvases and paint. Initially, I think it was just a means of purging and a means of being able to find a way to let out some of what I was feeling, and it grew from there. I certainly had no thoughts of displaying my work publicly, but I had a few pieces hanging in my house, and invariably people would say to me “who did those?” So ultimately, I started showing because someone with the Gallery asked if I would, and here we are twenty-three years later and I think with sales now over twenty-five million dollars. I would have to say, if credibility comes from starving, I’ve lost that track.

SFL Music: I read you are commissioned globally. I really liked the abstract (“The New Dawn”), but you also did some acting. You played the final phantom in the Toronto The Phantom of the Opera, their ten-year production. How did that come about?
Stanley: I’ve always found in life that things that connect with me, although perhaps without any logical explanation, usually have some sort of validity and ultimately some truth. When I was a little kid and I saw The Beatles on T.V., I don’t know what made me think it, but I suddenly thought, I can do that. I couldn’t play an instrument, but I think what I was thinking was, I can touch that nerve in other people, and certainly that was without any experience or anything to back it up. Likewise, when I first saw Phantom in London in 1988, I had a moment where I had that same epiphany and ten years later, my agent at CAA called and said, “do you have any interest in theater?” Now I grew up being exposed to theater and art and my parents, it was commendable that they had me experience all those things. Anyway, so when I was asked if I had any interest in theater I said, sure! I said, what is it? They said, “Phantom of the Opera” and they said, “you’d have to go to New York and do a full audition for Hal Prince’s people,” and I said, absolutely! I flew to New York and did a full audition between singing and blocking the stage and doing the role. They said, “you’re it” and next thing I knew, three months later I believe, I was in Toronto, and I was not scheduled to be the final phantom. Someone was supposed to come in after me and they wound up buying out his contract to keep me on. So, I was getting standing ovations every night, and I had no desire to try to make a rock version of Phantom of the Opera. Certainly, that’s not what they hired me for, and they didn’t need Bozo to come in and ruin a billion-dollar franchise. So, it was a terrific, terrific experience and we did eight shows a week, and it was one of the hardest experiences, but also one of the most gratifying.

SFL Music: While you were there, you became the spokesperson for About Face. How did this come to be and what is your goal in doing this?
Stanley: Doing Phantom was very cathartic for me because I didn’t even realize how much I was connected to that character. I was born with well, used to be called a birth defect. Now they call it a facial difference, but I was born without a right ear and no hearing on my right side. I certainly went through you know, scrutiny and ridicule as a kid, and I didn’t realize that there were aspects of this character that I was playing that tapped into that. At some point, I received a letter from a woman saying that she had seen Phantom many times and that I seemed to tap into an emotion that some others didn’t, which is incredibly flattering because I saw some stellar performances of other actors/singers doing the same role. Anyway, she also said that she was the president of the children’s support group for facial differences, About Face. I wrote her back and said, interesting that you should say that because I have a facial difference. I had never spoken about it. I’d always been very secretive about it, and exposing it and letting it out was not only healing for others, but it was healing for me. The less secrets we have, the lighter we are. The more we can live in truth. So, I wound up speaking to a lot of children and their parents, and it was very, very gratifying for me. I think that anytime that I can do something that helps other people, it serves me just as well. When you give, it’s really a gift to everyone including the person giving.

SFL Music: You went to High School of Music & Art. What inspired you to become a musician?
Stanley: Well interestingly, I probably have one of the singular I guess, distinctions at the High School of Music & Art. I was an art major and I managed to fail art (he laughed). Mainly because, look, no one works harder than me, but I also am not a big fan of being told what to do. So, I didn’t adhere to a lot of the schedules, and I just wasn’t cut out for it because of my hearing loss and because of some learning issues that now are very well known and validated. Back then, you were just called lazy. So, Music & Art was a wonderful place for me, just because it was a school where the emphasis was on really exploring your talent as opposed to what you dressed like. There was no dress code and back then, schools were different. Hair length was an issue at schools. Certainly, what you wore. So, it was a great place for me although (he laughed) I can’t say I excelled there, but at the same time, I was doing music because music really was my first love and always has been.

SFL Music: KISS has always been a leader in the music industry, and you designed the logos, album covers and apparel. What is next for KISS? Is there going to be an avatar type show coming up?
Stanley: Really there is so much after these fifty years and so much for the band to explore at this point. The idea that the band would end because we will tour no longer, is an impossibility. KISS is in the consciousness and in the threads of people around the world. So, we’re just exploring all different ideas. At the Madison Square Garden, last two shows of the two hundred fifty shows we did on this End of the Road Tour, we showed some avatars that are in the works. We’re working with just the absolute top; top people and they will not replace us. We will not be replaced by superheroes. It’s just another outlet for the band to diversify into. We’ve never been prisoners to other band’s limitations and we aren’t now. So, in terms of these avatars, they’re really in their early stages and it will take a few years to really get them to where they’ll wind up. We couldn’t be more excited about them, but it’s just another outlet and another way of continuing the band.

SFL Music: Fans will definitely look forward to that. Along with everything you have done, you also have Soul Station band that pays tribute to rhythm and blues?
Stanley: Mhm.

SFL Music: You are also a partner of the Rock & Brews franchise. Do you think that all of these projects, all the things that you do, contribute to the longevity and success that you have? What would you say?
Stanley: Oh sure, but you create longevity by loving what you do. If you follow your passions, they’ll lead you to another, and I have never lived by why. I live by why not?

SFL Music: Is that what you would maybe tell a new musician?
Stanley: Hopefully a new musician wouldn’t want to hear anything because the nature of being passionate means that you aren’t deterred or directed by anyone but yourself.

SFL Music: That is great advice. You also design signature instruments like guitars?
Stanley: Yeah. For the past forty years I’ve had musical instruments out and had great success with them, and they’re sold, but I played them.

SFL Music: That’s really cool! Is your art in other Wentworth Galleries?
Stanley: My art is always on exhibit at Wentworth Galleries throughout the country and at some point, there are shows in other cities.

SFL Music: Was there anything else people can look forward to? Anything else you want them to know about the art shows?
Stanley: I just want people to give themselves license to explore and not be limited by other people’s insecurities. The people who tell you what’s impossible are usually the ones who failed. Surround yourself with people who tell you what you can do, as opposed to what you can’t. Really success begins with believing in yourself.

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