Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet can still remember the day he was born in Glendale, California in 1941. Despite going on to lead one of the most innovative and influential bands of the 20th century, The Magic Band, Vliet began his creative life as an aspiring sculptor. His talent evident from the age of three and he had even apprenticed under a man called Agosthino Rodriguez who considered him a child prodigy, however it wasn't until much later in his life that fine art came to define the man. Vliet's parents had a deep aversion and mistrust of fine art and seemed to go out of their way to stem Vliet's creativity such was his passion. When he was thirteen his parents moved to the Mojave Desert, and it was here, (to his parents dismay) that not only would Vliet's creativity flair amplify, but so to would his love of music, coming into posession of old Jazz and Blues records by people like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Muddy Waters.

You can imagine Don Van Vliet at this point, this young kid in the middle of nowhere, spending his time making sculptures and listening to blistering jazz and blues records. He no doubt found an affinity with those records as the music he went on to create was like some mutated zombie sister to it, channeling a spirit that was as riveting as it was bizarre. Warped surrealistic ideas about zig zag wanderers and ice cream for crows backed by the ordered chaos of The Magic Band...they defy description. Despite never making it big in the market, they went on to influence a myriad of future performers, from Tom Waits to The Clash. Beefheart could barely play a note yet he orchestrated it all.

It wasn't until 1982, after a fairly tumltuous time in the music business with no great critical acclaim that Captain Beefheart surrendered his alterego and reverted back to Don Van Vliet to focus on a future career fine art, which isn't to say any of his inherent weirdness was to take a rest.

Vliet's paintings are reminiscent of Neo-Expressionist artists like Georg Baselitz and Philip Guston, they have a distinctly abstract expressionist feel yet there are figures there. The works are alomst naive in their execution, with large parts of the canvas often being left white, and figures drawn so loosley they seem almost incidental. I like his paintings, they have a naturalistic element to them, a spiritual quality which i feel would be beyond the means of expression to say an inner city artist, they are untainted by dirty streets, by city lights, by cars. Vliet's subject is simple: nature and spirituality.

Below is a video on Don Van Vliet by the photographer Anton Corbijn which came out in 1993. It features both Vliet's mother and David Lynch.

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