Boy George needs no introduction. A bold, colourful, provocative character, he has led a life driven by a desire to be different and to stand out. After decades spent in the music industry – like the creative (and karma) chameleon that he is – the brushes in his make-up bag have now been joined with those for paint as he embarks on a new career as an artist. His first solo exhibition is coming to Monaco’s G&M Gallery this month, so FORCE ONE caught up with him to find out more:
F.1.M. : When did you decide to pick up a paint brush and put something on paper?
B.G. : At school the only thing I ever got any praise for was art. I remember the day I was expelled and the last thing I saw was a pencil drawing that I’d done of my sister and I remember thinking, I should take it off the wall! In terms of the way I look, my music, I’ve always incorporated my own creative ideas into everything I do. But in terms of actually physically starting to paint and putting stuff on paper, that’s only really been in the past four-five years.
For this particular show, my first, I have been really concentrating on silk screen prints. They’re all about the size. I do everything by hand. I don’t trace and I don’t use computers. It’s all freestyle. I throw away more than I keep though! But sometimes you look at a piece and it can be really simple, then it looks back at you and says “I’m done”.
F.1.M. : Of the pieces that you do keep, why those ones?
B.G. : It’s whether I believe in it or not. Sometimes I end up doing somebody famous, often completely by accident. I’m not there thinking I’m going to draw Prince or whoever, but I’ll start the process and then I’ll suddenly think, actually, this one looks a bit like Prince! Then I start thinking about how I can make it look more like that person. I’m always trying to evoke the spirit of the person rather than recreating an image that already exists.
A lot of my reference points are very punky. A lot of the things that I do visually are influenced by the 1970s, an insane and eclectic decade for music and ideas. And really that was my breeding ground as a kid. That’s where I learnt to be who I am now, I suppose. So a lot of my stuff does go back to that period of Tribalism in British fashion culture. The humour of Tribalism is a big influence in what I do as well. It’s great fun to document different periods and just things that evoke the period and make me think a bit.
I think all creativity is about turning up. I always encourage everybody to do it because you do it, then you can decide afterwards whether you want anyone else to see it.
F.1.M. : It’s almost as if you’re putting yourself on the canvas. You’re bold, colourful, provocative, punky… Is that intentional, or does that just flow from you naturally?
B.G. : I think everything you do has to have some kind of emotional connection to who you are, or how you see the world, or what things excite you. I enjoy seeing colourful people; some people have amazing faces to draw. Sometimes you look at someone and they’re not classically beautiful in the Vogue sense, but they’ve got such a beautiful face to paint or film. A face that you’d want to write a song about. For me, I choose people and characters that are a little bit like myself, but maybe braver. I suppose to a certain extent maybe that’s a part of me I’d like to see more of. I have the idea that interesting people are usually quite flawed.
left: The Beautiful People / right: Yamamoto
F.1.M. : I guess this ties into one of your paintings called “The Beautiful People”.
B.G. : That was influenced very much by Marilyn Manson, and it’s also a song. A lot of my stuff is influenced by songs. When Marilyn Manson came on the scene I found it very exciting as he was so different. There was a guy in his band called Twiggy Ramirez who had these amazing dreadlocks. When I started working on this piece I was flitting between Manson and Twiggy and it ended up more Twiggy, this mad and androgynous Goth with dreadlocks.
I’m always looking at trying to find an attitude and some sort of movement in a picture, even though sometimes they’re quite graphic and static. You can get the idea of something moving, or a hint of inner sarcasm in the face, a defiance…
F.1.M. : A bit like another piece of yours, “Front Row Fashion Panic”.
B.G. : Now that’s an experience. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the front row of a fashion show, but it always comes with a lot of anxiety! They’re such fun things to go to. And that’s what fascinates me about life. As a performer you’ve got the stage and also the drama of what’s going on behind it, and then what you’re doing as a performer. So it’s picking up on all those kind of aspects of human nature, like how some people – if they’re not in the front row at the fashion show – it’s the end of the world. I’ve been one of those people!
F.1.M. : And do you have a particular favourite that you’ll be showing in the G&M Gallery in Monaco?
B.G. : My favourite is probably Yamamoto because it’s so dramatic. It’s based on a costume Bowie wore in the 70s by the Japanese designer, Yamamoto. I remember seeing it when I was 11, the first time I saw Ziggy Stardust. It left such a huge impression on me, the outfit was just so incredible. He was on stage and these two Japanese girls came running onto the stage and pulled it apart. It was like a beautiful, theatrical moment. I would say that there is also a high level of theatricality in everything that I do. I’m a performer, I need an applause for everything!
F.1.M. : What is the process of creating these works? Do you stare at a blank canvas and have an idea of what you want to do, or do you find inspiration in the moment?
B.G. : It doesn’t flow easily for me. I have to really think about it and be in the mood. Sometimes I even do some affirmations before and say “this is going to be great!” There is no set process. It’s the same with writing a song; you can get a lyric from anything, and it’s also the same process with art. I might see something and then I think that I’d like to draw it or create something based on it and then put the elements that I love together. You’re always left with your own interpretation of something, and I think it’s really important to allow yourself to be influenced by everything that you love, but also to be influenced by things that you don’t love. It’s all about, like I said earlier, turning up and doing the work. It’s about taking a risk. Sometimes you’ve just got to let it go and say, I’m finished.
F.1.M. : That could sum up your career couldn’t it?
Being a bit of a risk taker!
B.G. : I think so, yeah! Although I have to say, I’m not naturally drawn to taking risks. I think, creatively, you have to be a bit belligerent sometimes and say, this is what I’ve done no matter what someone’s reaction to it is.
F.1.M. : And is it a risk, taking on this new challenge of putting on your first solo exhibition?
B.G. : In terms of working with Tina [Green, owner of G&M Gallery] it’s been really exciting. I’ve been discussing doing an art show for the last few years with different people, but she was the first person to really dive in and say let’s do this, and put me on the spot! So now I’m sat here thinking, oh I’ve really got to finish these works! It’s been very exciting the last few months. It’s been hectic but I’ve really enjoyed it. When I see everything finally up on the wall I think it’s going to be quite an overpowering emotion.
left: The Man who sold the world / right: Prince with Body
F.1.M. : How did this collaboration with Tina come about?
B.G. : She saw some of my work and reached out. She said she liked it and so we started talking about doing something, doing a show. I was excited as artists always have to be pushed to do things, to finish things. In a fashion show, you can be there sewing on buttons at the last minute. I love artistic people and creative people and how they buzz off that panic.
F.1.M. : So is this you now, Boy George the artist, a further reinvention / evolution of yourself?
B.G. : I don’t think I’m reinventing myself as such. I’ve always moved in between different creative elements of my life; there’s been music and I’ve DJed and I’ve done fashion and photography… for me it’s an extension of what I’ve always done. Through this process it’s really transformed what I do and what I want to do in the future. It’s exciting!
F.1.M. : Do you actively take inspiration from other artists?
B.G. : Absolutely. Not consciously, though. Sometimes people say that my work reminds them of something so I’ll go off and have a look, although sometimes I don’t go and look in case my work starts to appear more like someone else’s! But then I think, the best advice I’ve ever been given is just to embrace everything. When I’m in the music studio I listen to everything you could think of, and I’m always referencing things that I love. So I’ll listen to some guitar from Roxy Music, or saxophone from Stevie Wonder, whatever it may be.
We’re all an expression of things that we love. I don’t shy away from looking at other people’s work. I knew Keith Haring really well, I loved Keith, and I loved the way he worked, and I do something similar when I use pens, for example. But I’m not him and his style, I’m something else!
F.1.M. : When I first saw your works I thought there was an element of Basquiat to them, something quite primitive in your sketchiness and bold choice of colours.
B.G. : There’s more wildness in what he did. I went to see an exhibition of his recently and I felt the frenzy in it. My stuff is cleaner, but I do love his work and have taken some influence from what he did. I love what I love in a picture! And there are things that I love and don’t know why. It’s the same with music. Why do I like one particular artist over another similar one who is equally good? I think it’s always about what something does to you emotionally.
left: Scarman / right: Come On Feel The Noize pt2
F.1.M. : That’s it, art is subjective. It’s often a viewer’s emotional connection to a piece as to whether or not they like it.
B.G. : I mean, who do you listen to at the end of the day when you create something? Do you listen to the person who says you’re brave? Do you listen to the people who say you’re rubbish? Or do you just follow your own instincts? At the end of the day, like you say, it is all subjective, but it is also about taking a risk. You think, yep, I’ve done it, now it will be interesting to see people’s reaction to it. That’s exciting, that moment.
F.1.M. : If you had to pick one of your songs to listen to on repeat while painting, which would it be? Which would be your soundtrack to your new career as an artist?
B.G. : I think it would be something new, a song called “24 Hour Freak Show”, about all the characters that I’ve known in my life. My stuff is all about people having a bit of an attitude; punky, fashiony, a little bit arty, offensive, and humorous. I think that’s really important to me. What you do should make you smile.
F.1.M. : Which reflects back on you and your character!
B.G. : Yeah, my stuff is about freedom, freedom of expression. And, you don’t have to join in if you don’t want to!
F.1.M. : And what’s next? A second exhibition?
B.G. : I want to see how this goes. I’ve definitely got a bug for it now. I really enjoy it. Whenever I see a blank wall now I just want one of my paintings on it!
I am also making a new album right now, so I’m writing and producing stuff for that. If you want to check it out I’ve put a few demos on my SoundCloud. What I’m trying to do is get people to experience my journey with the music. Obviously it’s very primitive at the moment, but it will be interesting to see what people think. People have a very different relationship with music now, it’s much more casual. Like an affair. You have to keep them constantly aroused! And I think the same applies to art when you think, oh what is he going to do next? I’m just really excited about the whole process, the simplicity of that, and how you can turn your mistakes into something really beautiful.
It’s really about filling the world with interesting things, colourful things, things that are provocative. Things that are humorous. Things that make you think. That’s one of the great things about art. Art really throws you off balance sometimes and you have to just approach it in a different way.