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Ronnie Wood


Jim Merlis


Ronnie Wood – A life in art

“From the moment I get up in the morning, I see everything as a painting.”

I was born into a family of bargees (a person in charge of or working on a barge), and my brothers and I were the first members of our family, in living memory, to have been born on dry land. The only art in my parent’s life was the painting on the side of their barge; neither Mum nor Dad could draw, but both my brothers went to art school as teenagers and became commercial artists. They loved jazz, and with the blues being a close relative of jazz, music was always in our house. It was a natural progression as I grew up that I should be drawn to both art and music.

My brother Art was ten years older than me and Ted was eight years older; they both had bands. Art’s was an R&B band, while Ted’s was a jazz band. Art and Ted grew up during the war, so as kids they had no TV to watch and drawing became their way of expressing themselves. It was inevitable that “little Ronnie” followed them, nicking their paints to try and do my own thing. They especially loved drawing horses and, like them, I’ve always loved to paint horses.

When I went to school I loved my art classes; as a young kid, when my mum went to my school, they’d say, “You’re the mother of the artist.” Before I reached my teens, some of my drawings featured on the BBC’s Sketch Club and one of them even won a prize, which furthered my interest in art. It means that I’ve been painting and drawing for seven decades, which is even longer than I’ve been playing music. But when I was young, I never really thought about the art that I did; I just did it. Later I went to Ealing Art School, after studying history of art at A level.

My brothers were the first to tell me about the old masters, showing me their work, and I’ve found their influence creeping into my own pieces – Caravaggio, Braque, Goya, Munch, Matisse, Rembrandt and Picasso. It’s the same as playing music; I listen to guitarists like Grant Green, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Big Bill Broonzy, Hubert Sumlin, Hop Wilson and Elmore James, and their playing styles influence my own playing. Ultimately, it all comes out as your own style.

After art school, I became a sign writer for a while, but only briefly. I learnt a lot from that job, especially the discipline that is involved. I tried getting a job at Pinewood Studios to paint scenery, but I couldn’t get in because the union controlled everything; it was a closed shop.

When I was seventeen, I formed The Birds with some local friends. We got a record deal and released a number of singles, but we had no hits. In 1967 I joined the Jeff Beck Group as the bass player; Rod Stewart was the singer. Two years later, Rod and I joined forces with some of the Small Faces to become the Faces. During this time, my art was less to the fore as 1 was trying to make it in music, but as the Faces began to find success, I found more time for my art.

As a guitarist, I’m known for playing the slide guitar and very much as a rock guitar player – a defined genre. My art allows me to explore more. I break the confines of a chord sequence with my art; I’m able to do whatever I want without having to think about being a part of a band, restricted by what a particular song needs. But as I always say, being a Gemini, I’m also a nice bunch of guys to work with. My twins are Gemini too, which makes us a double Gemini family.

In 1973 I worked with Mick Jagger on the song “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” and over the next couple of years I got closer to the Stones and then joined the band. Keith and I formed a partnership and soon developed ‘the ancient art of weaving’, which describes how the two of us play together in a seamless way.

For me, art and music are so similar; sometimes putting more time into a song or picture does not necessarily make it better. Having said that, I have gone back to a painting that I started and at the time was unable to finish, but after returning to it, it has worked out fine. Both art and music hold their position in my life. They bounce off one another and make me the person I am. Sometimes I hit a streak that overtakes everything and I just have to paint. Music sometimes calls me and I take the painting with me, and equally it happens in reverse. But more often than not they are both happening at the same time. I paint to music, and sometimes when I’m playing, in my head I’m doing it to a painting.

When I paint the Stones, I often use photographs of us on stage, then I try to add to the perspective of my memory by sketching my subjects from life to give them unique takes. But I also love getting among the elements. One day in Ireland, I was painting outside and went in to get a jacket and the easel blew over and the painting ended up with cow’s hoof prints on it. I just left them in to become part of the picture.

I’m always looking for new inspiration for my art – colour fills my life. Even the decoration in my homes is a riot of colour. I paint the walls, everything, and I’ve even turned some of my art into mosaics for our bathroom. I’ve turned paintings into carpets, stained glass and bronzes, and have collaborated on marine chronometers for Bremont and even a Rolls-Royce Wraith; Liberty and Co has used my paintings to create scarves, bags and clothes. I’ve done art for albums, including the cover of an Eric Clapton album, and I do the Stones’ set lists as little works of art.

Art fills my life, art is my life and art will continue to be my life.


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