Rock 'n' roll enjoys a rich tradition as a fertile creative field for former art students. Devo and Talking Heads, for example, made good use of their art school backgrounds in their rock careers, from the latter's elaborately edgy stage shows to the former's bizarro conceptualizations.
But the marriage of art and pop music has not been as prevalent in the case of punk and "insurgent-country" statesman Jon Langford. While Langford's work with revered English outfit the Mekons, the Waco Brothers or the Pine Valley Cosmonauts doesn't lack its own artistic merit, for much of the early part of his musical career -- not to mention his time as a student -- the visual arts took a distant back seat to music.
"I was doodling and scribbling for fanzines throughout the '80s," Langford says of his early artistic forays, "and finally did some more serious illustrations for [British music magazine] NME and some record sleeves, etc. But I really didn't do any art at art school, as I was off in a van having my pants set on fire by the punk rock. I never had much trouble writing songs, but art school tuned up my critical muscles to the point of paralysis when it came to painting."
Langford continued to dabble in art, but it wasn't until he relocated to Chicago in the early '90s that he began to channel his muse into visual pieces with more focus and regularity. "An artist in Chicago called Tony Fitzpatrick saw some of my illustrations in a local paper and forced me into a show at his World Tattoo gallery -- he's done albums covers for Steve Earle, Lou Reed, etc. When I told him I had no work to show, he gave me time and training in his etching studio to produce a series of black-and-white works that went on to inspire [my] painting. I love the process of etching, and apply it perversely to my paintings."
Indeed, there is a scratchiness to Langford's work that imbues the material with a rustic, hardscrabble gravity. His portrait of a young Johnny Cash, for instance, sports a series of economical cat-scratch grooves that suggest the Man in Black's later age lines. Simultaneously, the lines evoke a bedrock presence so elemental that the world can only score a few claw marks into a visage that seems chiseled in stone.
Such pop-cultural portraiture is indicative of Langford's body of work, which draws on his background in, and love for, music -- particularly American country music. Through it, he also includes pieces of American history, as well. "I could never get on with the 20th-century art-about-art bullshit," he says, "so I do art about music. I like old country publicity photos, and the deer-in-the-headlights, wishful-thinking fixed smiles on the faces of hopeful [soldiers] as they troop off to the front."
The Art of Jon Langford, a celebration of the alt-country icon's visual work, will be exhibited through Oct. 25 at Eyedrum, in association with Emory University's American Studies program. "It'll be a bunch of recent stuff, ranging from the honky-tonk singer tribute/icons to more oblique stuff, full of bile for your current junta," Langford says.
The correlation between the two poles of Langford's self-expression should become clear during two appearances in conjunction with the Eyedrum exhibit. Langford gives an amorphous "autobiographical performance" -- half-performance, half-lecture about such topics as his life, country music and Americana -- on Wednesday, Oct. 22. A more conventional solo musical performance follows on Oct. 23.
But, assuming a prior knowledge of Langford's fame, why not just let the art speak for itself? "Everything is related to everything else at the moment," he says. "There's lots of cross-pollination; most of the paintings are based on songs I've written, and contain bits of lyrics, imagery, etc. And often a painting will inspire a song. The only reason I could get back into making paintings was by confusing them in my head with songs."
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?