Lots are popular artists cross over into other artforms. Madonna went from singer to actress to director, Jennifer Lopez went from dancer to actor to singer, P.Diddy went from rapper to fashion designer to producer–even Roy Choi has switched disciplines, going from meat eater to vegetarian. Now, there’s a new crossover whose switched over from one popular discipline into a little more obscure one: Chris Brown. The controversial musician hasn’t gone into acting or fashion or directing–no, he’s taken a more unexpected turn: fine art. Teaming up with legitimately legitimate artist Ron English (and his album designer), Brown has gone all Kanye but taken it to a new, kind of interesting level: he’s now a painter.
Now, don’t fret and kick and scream yet. His painting (“painting”) is in conjunction with the release of he and English’s new toy Dum English, a series of pricey vinyl toys and necklaces of a skeletal spaceman, a collision of high art, low art, pop art, and pop music–popaganda at its purest. To celebrate the release, last night Culver City’s Corey Helford held a VIP event for some of Chris’ people, some of Ron’s people, and a few press people to watch the two of them paint a giant Dum English sculpture that would be sold for $40K.
It was a fascinating event, too. When we walked up, Bobby wasn’t even aware that it was this Chris Brown, him threatening not to go in as a result of his infamous incident. I talked him down because the crowd of young women outside trying to snap photos of Chris was just so interesting outside of an art gallery on a Wednesday that we had to see what was going on. Sure enough, it was a few handfuls of people watching Chris and Ron paint. It was a mix of your typical, Helford art enthusiast fair combined with lots of press and apathetic business people, who were obviously moving parts of the Chris Brown machine, whose faces read, “This event. Then we have to go to that event. Then this event. Can I have a cocktail?” It was a cross between an art happening and a business meeting, security not even letting you get that close to the staircase (although Brown was pretty accessible at the center of the room). There were even a few kids there not to mention musicians that ranged from Bow Wow to Adam Jones.
The logistics of the painting were a little funny. Ron tackled the front of the sculpture, almost painting by numbers, a Popaganda shirt on and bandana holding his hair back. Chris, on the other hand, had the nearly blank canvas of the back which he was filling with what looked like a mix between a Grateful Dead bear and baby Basquiat smatterings. His job was a little harder because he didn’t actually have any confines to work in. He was also literally putting his whole body into it, painting with his hands and eventually taking off his Air Jordans to add footprints to the piece.
Sure, this sounds like Baby Einstein live; however, you have to recognize Brown for being an art (or at least English) enthusiast and someone willing to go all in. Painting this sculpture and the toy release were only the surface of his artistic pursuit. As mentioned earlier, he had English paint his most recent album cover, which was displayed at the event and being sold for $90K. There were a few other, smaller, English pieces in addition to some larger not-English works. For the majority of the event, I chalked that to some unnamed artist I was unfamiliar with. Nope: they were mixed media works by Brown.
Now, of course, they were not revolutionary nor will they land him in next year’s Made In L.A.. They were priced very modestly, making it obvious Chris won’t be leaving music behind to wholly pursue visual art. One thing that can be said of his work is that it wasn’t *that* bad and, really, was better than a lot of art we’ve seen from people who call themselves full time artists. It’s interesting that he chose this route, almost making Kanye West’s relationship with George Condo look like a joke since he’s actually painting with his visual idol/mentor. (And, in reality, Kanye tried something similar with fashion and–you know–failed miserably.)
The Dum English collaboration toys are now for sale and–we believe–the pieces of art are still for sale at Corey Helford, too. It was one of the most fascinating, intimate, and calm events we’ve been to in Los Angeles and definitely seemed like something that would either make Andy Warhol jump for joy or cringe in sadness. It was an experience and certainly unexpected. Congratulations to Chris Brown and Ron English, though: judging from the crowd of calm-but-could-turn-rabid girls outside of the gallery, they definitely have brought modern pop art into the pop music world.