Louis Armstrong may have passed away almost 40 years ago, but miraculously, he looks to be alive and well at the CSUN campus, energetically blowing his trumpet, with eyes wide, like there’s no tomorrow.
At least, that’s what one of the paintings in the “Music Icons of the 20th Century” exhibit suggests, with its lifelike portrayal of the famous trumpeter.
The free exhibit, which features 30 stunning paintings by Sidney Randolph Maurer of musical icons from the last 100 years, has been showing at the Main Gallery in the Art and Design Center since Sept. 22, and will be on display until Oct. 30.
The paintings in the collection are loud with bright color and texture, a style that is distinctly Maurer’s.
“I don’t make paintings to match your carpets and drapes,” Maurer said. “Someone else can do that.”
Maurer, 84, resides in Georgia but has lived in New York most of his life where he was deeply ingrained in the music and art scene. He established his style while designing album covers and working with pop artist, Andy Warhol.
During the “British Invasion” of the 60s, Maurer spent much of his time in the music scene, hanging out with the likes of Donovan, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for Maurer to fly over to England once a month to hang out with the rock stars.
AIt is from this background that springs his vibrant creations of oil, dyes, watercolor and spit.
“No joke. I used to do paintings where I peed on them. I just go with the flow,” Maurer said when asked if he was serious about the spit. This doesn’t seem too far off coming from a man who claims to have partied in Irish castles with George Harrison.
The icons collection includes musicians from a variety of genres and time periods, such as Elvis Presley, Quincy Jones, Edith Piaf and Jimi Hendrix. Each work is strong enough to stand on its own, but together, the pieces beautifully compliment each other. Maurer painted all of it in a little over a year.
Each painting is splattered with life that nearly jumps off of the canvas. The world-famous musicians are immediately recognizable, but seen through Maurer’s eyes, they suddenly take on a new light. Knowing his past makes his paintings all the more real; these were people he really knew. A tight image of Mick Jagger desperately singing with his mop of dark hair in his face puts you in the front row of a Rolling Stone’s show (before they had wrinkles).
Maurer describes his style as “explosive and loose,” which may characterize Maurer’s personality as well.
“To paint the way I do, you just gotta take your clothes off and go,” he said.
Indeed, these paintings are missing clean lines and natural shading, but somehow, Maurer manages to bring the life out of his subjects despite (or perhaps because of) his un-tethered style. His work is marked with haphazard blues, reds and purples, as well as the occasional erratic splatter of typography.
A painting of Ella Fitzgerald against a black and blue background shows the singer with eyes closed, lost in song. Around her face are several letter E’s, random and small. Whether the letters are meant to represent her song, or are simply there to break up the aesthetic of the piece, it comes together to create an unforgettable work of art.
When he created album covers, Maurer used various letter-set tools for typography. He said when he transitioned to canvas work, he decided to experiment with the products he had previously used in the commercial studio. When he liked the end result, the method stuck.
According to Jim Sweeters, director of the Art Gallery, half of the pieces are from the University Foundation’s collection while the other half was donated by a private collector, Allan Rich.
It was Rich, who has been a personal friend of Maurer’s for 77 years, that suggested Maurer paint a collection of the icons that he knew.
The exhibit has turned out to be a popular one, and doesn’t cease to enchant observers. Senior Fernando Vivanco, 23, art animation major, especially enjoyed the painting of Michael Jackson.
“I just grew up listening to his music,” Vivanco said. “This stands out from the rest of the other pieces.”
While this work may not match anyone’s home décor, it is what art should be: a passionate representation of someone or something. So for now, Louis Armstrong and friends will hang in the Main Gallery, waiting to be appreciated. A word to all art majors, creators, and fans: this exhibit should not be missed.