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Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork

Nenad Georgievski By

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Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork
Scott Gutterman
ISBN: 978-1608872237
Insight Editions

Few are the musicians in any era that accurately inhabit the word "superstar" in the sense that artist Andy Warhol used it. He defined a "superstar" as a person of style, influence and panache, a figure of endless charisma and on whom one's attention falls and rarely wanders. It could be said with certainty that trumpeter Miles Davis fits into that rare breed of superstars. He was a man of impeccable style and taste, and just like no one played like him, no one dressed like him either or had the same taste as him. Countless books and articles have been written about his musical achievements and his illustrious music career, but not so much, understandably, gave greater emphasis about his other loves and interests such as boxing, and later in his life, painting.

There are a number of musicians whose artistic medium of choice is not only music, but visual arts as well. Various musicians have expressed themselves through means other than music be it painting, photographs, sculpturing. Singer Joni Mitchell has always thought of herself as a painter first, and a musician second, while Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), who was one of the world's finest abstract expressionists, retired completely from music making only to devote himself completely to painting. And many musicians on the British scene first went to art school, like Clapton, Page, Beck, Lennon, and Ray Davies, before their music careers took off. While many art forms strive to have the same instant impact that music has, still, music is an art form like any other and there will always be some that will thrive in multiple areas, from music to painting, drawing, sculpting or something else close to heart.

Miles got interested in drawing and painting in the last decade of his life, something that first surfaced during interviews when he had the habit of doodling with a marker pen. At the start of the 80's he had suffered a mild stroke and he used drawing as a kind of therapy. As he mentioned in his autobiography "It's like therapy for me, and it keeps my mind occupied with something when I'm not playing music." Soon after, he painted the sleeves of his record Star People (Columbia, 1983) and that was the first time his artwork would see the light of the day. Soon after, the video for "Tutu Medley," directed by Spike Lee, showed Miles both painting in his apartment and playing. During that decade, the interest in painting progressed and he took lessons with painter Jo Gelbard who began teaching Miles the basic techniques of painting, and subsequently became his companion. Later they even began exhibiting together and one of their collaborative pieces adorned the sleeves to Amandla (Warner Bros, 1989). During his life time, and many times after he passed away, his works were exhibited around the world.

With a preface written by composer/producer Quincy Jones, and including reflections by Miles' closest family (like his daughters Erin and Cheryl Davis and his nephew and former band member, drummer Vince Wilburn Jr.) Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork monograph celebrates the visual art of this renowned musician by bringing to light this rather rarely seen side to this artist. It also features an insightful essay by writer Scott Gutterman, who shortly before Miles' passing in 1991 discussed with him his art and ideas, and his short but striking answers, are spread out among the drawings and paintings, as they reveal Miles' sharp wit and thoughts about his art, taste and approach to work.

This superbly produced retrospective publication is divided into two chapters—"Drawings" and "Paintings," and from beginning to end, along with Miles' thoughts, it is a unique peek into the art work and mind of jazz's most peculiar musicians. The "Drawings" section is filled with delicate silhouettes of women, dancers in motion, awkward portraits, and whirling bodies. His distinctive drawings are instantly recognizable and the details within each pull the eye of the reader for a closer inspection. On the other hand, the "Paintings" section is rather more complex one as it shows various works that are far more varied and abstract, and often contrasting in mood and style. His lush brush strokes, daring and often surreal use of color, tone and texture are at the center of his work, and he took these elements and merged them into diverse and intriguing paintings.


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