We all know Alison Mosshart as the rakish singer from The Kills, hair in her face, stamping her scuffed boot so hard when she sings it’s as if she’s trying to kick a hole in the stage. Between Jamie Hince and Mosshart—formerly Hotel and VV—ripples a frisson fueled by a passion for the past, namely the art, music, and fashion of bygone times, and the power of their own slinkily sexy music. This is your reminder to take a trip through their back catalogue brought on by the fact Mosshart’s first solo art show launches today and runs through till July 11 at the Joseph Gross Gallery in New York. Entitled Fire Power, the exhibition includes experimental tire track paintings, and bold, teeth baring portraits that have a definite Basquiat lean. We spoke to the singer and artist about her latest artistic endeavor, her background in visual art, her inspirations and, why she’s obsessed with cars and the wide open road.
Noisey: Hi Alison. You’ve participated in art shows before but Fire Power is your first solo show. How does this one differ from last year’s group show Push It?
Alison Mosshart: For that show there was 21 or something different artists in that show. That was the first time I had ever shown in a gallery like that, so that was definitely a first. It was inspiring; it was overwhelming. Because I sold everything at that exhibition, they offered me a solo show the following year. Now I’ve got something like 127 pieces.
What’s your background in visual art? I understand you had a stint in art school but you’re mostly self-taught.
Pretty much. My mother was a high school art teacher, she was teaching when I was a kid so I was surrounded by that stuff—she was pretty proactive in leaving me at a table full of art and letting me go nuts. I loved it as a kid and I did tons and tons in high school. Then I went to university and did all the art classes for two years, but then I went on tour and never came back.
Do you remember your first intersection of music and art?
I don’t know I’ve been doing them both forever. I’d say I’ve been doing art longer because I was doing art when I was five. They’ve always gone hand in hand though, starting on that basic, punk rock level—doing all the artwork for the records and the fanzines and the t-shirts and the posters and every single thing that was needed for the band.
Exactly, there’s so much art involved in creating an image for a band.
We did that stuff and still do, but that’s a definite intersection, and looking at record artwork and being inspired by record covers—that’s an intersection. And the way you dress and every single thing you do it’s all one big gigantic thing that you can’t separate.
It kind of makes sense that you would pursue art because all your music projects have a very particular visual aesthetic.
I feel like my lyrics are visual. It doesn’t feel like an unnatural progression to do an art show. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t asked because I’m so busy doing music that it’s not gonna occur to me to do that. But then, it feels totally normal too. Like, “Yeah fuck it, why not, of course.”
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The theme of the show is Fire Power: Life on the Road. Did most of the ideas for these pieces come to you while you were actually on the road or were they more of a reflection between tours?
You know it wasn’t so long ago we were on tour. We’d kinda go out on the road for a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there. We’re doing that again in July and August. But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a record out where we were on the road for two solid years. That’ll come soon enough. I’m always on the road, I swear! I don’t think I’ve been anywhere longer than two weeks in like five years. So there’s always an element of traveling and hotel rooms and buses and planes and different environments in different cities all the time. The art in the show is mostly small. There’s a lot of work on paper that’s pretty small it’s all suitcase size. It was all done on the ground, dried, and put back in my suitcase [laughs]. When I was home is when all the bigger works happened where I’m actually in a place where I can stretch canvas. That’s only recently been able to happen. I’ve always wanted to work bigger, but there’s never been a way for me to do that; I can’t put a massive canvas on the bus or a plane.
A lot of these pieces were made using running rubber car tires over a canvas. What made you decide to paint that way?
I wanted to paint with my actual muscle car and people talked me out of it, but the idea always stuck so I’d do different tests and I sort of got it—it just got smaller and smaller. I found myself at a used tire place talking to a bunch of dudes like, “I need a good tire,” and I’d bring a tire home and start rolling it around and it’s not right, because there’s no weight because there’s no car on top of it, so it doesn’t look right. Eventually it dwindled down to me standing in a fucking Toys R Us at like 11 PM checking the tire tracks of all the toy cars and finding the right one. And I couldn’t stop painting with them; it was just so much fun. I think it looks great—super abstract—but if there’s anything that’s gonna depict my life and what I feel like all the time and what I love, it’s gonna be that. I think it’s so beautiful it makes me crazy, I wanna make them all the time. I love them.
Were you intending for such a literal translation of life on the road?
No, I wasn’t. The idea came because I love the way skid marks look, and I have a car with a big fucking engine in it and I do the same thing with my car and I think it’s beautiful. I look at them and they’re just nuts. You see them all the time when someone paves a road or puts down a stripe then you see this incredible, holy shit, holy shit line that’s looking completely crooked and off the road, and you think, “Who did that?” “Where did that car go?” All those crazy going off the road tracks, its like some sort of fossil. I’ve always said they were beautiful and photographed them. I love cars, I love highways, I love being on the road, I love all of it—I think there’s nothing better in the world than bombing down the highway.
It’s cool how they kind of unintentionally came together in this larger theme.
Yeah, it did. I think most things come together when it comes from an honest place of pure delight and obsession. Everything else in the show is really kind of like my diary entries, whatever I’ve seen or experienced at the time is getting put down on paper in a pretty wild way.
Seems like making art has been a consistent outlet for your musical career.
There’s a lot of time sitting backstage waiting for stuff to happen, you could go crazy out of boredom. So you’re sitting in some strange room that’s your pretend home for the day, waiting for soundcheck and waiting for the gig, and you’re sort of stuck in there, so that’s always been what I’ve done: bring my journals around and drawn pictures. And my art box has just gotten larger and larger now I basically have no clothes in my suitcases.
Do you have any type of music you like to listen to when you make art?
No, I listen to all sorts of music when I paint. Anything really. I mean if there’s a new record I really haven’t heard and I really wanna listen to it, I’ll get excited and the way I’ll listen to it is by painting.
Fire Power will be exhibited at the Joseph Gross Gallery, 548 W 28th Street 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001 until 7.11.