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Grunge in the gallery – from Kurt Cobain to Pearl Jam

24 March 2019

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

Interesting news from Seattle, where Winston Wächter Fine Art has opened an exhibition created by artist Kate Neckel and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. Consisting of a number of original canvases complemented by collages, sculptures, drawings and songs, the show was apparently inspired by Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable revues of the late 1960s. ‘I was always fascinated by painters and artists in other mediums,’ McCready tells Artnet. ‘I never had the confidence to put a paintbrush to paper or draw because I just felt like I wasn’t good at it.’

Not all grunge stars have felt the same way. Indeed, the plaid-shirted rock phenomenon that emerged from Seattle in the early 1990s has a long and (admittedly not always) illustrious relationship with the visual arts. Raymond Pettibon memorably designed the cover art for the Foo Fighters’ album One by One (2002), as well as for its accompanying singles, while Elizabeth Peyton made her name with what the New York Times described in 1995 as a series of ‘small votive paintings’ of the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. ‘Her penchant for indicating his pale skin and bleached hair with stark whites,’ Roberta Smith wrote, ‘gives his famous charisma an incandescent glow that seems to be both coming into focus and fading away.’

Cobain himself was an inveterate doodler, filling sketchbooks with caricatures and surreal comic strips and even painting the Francis Bacon-like cover image for Nirvana’s compilation album Incesticide. ‘Kurt was always artistic,’ Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic told Kerrang! in 2017. ‘That was obvious. He was always writing songs, or drawing or painting or doing sculpture’.

Then there are the artistic achievements of Hole singer (and Cobain’s widow) Courtney Love, who in 2012 staged ‘And She’s Not Even Pretty’, an exhibition of her drawings in New York – to which reactions, it’s fair to say, were mixed. Two years ago, Love turned up at the Venice Biennale to shelter her friend Damien Hirst from critical brickbats. ‘I love Damien!’ she told Art News. ‘And I’m here to defend him.’

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