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All The World's A Canvas – An Interview With Paul Stanley of KISS

Interview Conducted July 2009

by Melanie "Sass" Falina

Paul StanleyAny rock music fan knows who Paul Stanley is. Paul Stanley is the Starchild, the lust-oozing singer and guitarist of one of the biggest bands in the history of rock and roll.

Onstage he's a commanding presence, somewhat of a rock and roll preacher - if you will; a crooner, a lover, and a circus leader. And those jumps he makes in six-inch, knee-high boots are poetry in motion.

Paul Stanley is 'the one with the star painted on his face,' but the canvas Stanley works with goes far beyond the realm of greasepaint and lipstick. Although coming to know Paul Stanley as an artist may seem to some as if it's a new development in the man's life but it's far from it. Having majored in art, Stanley graduated from the acclaimed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City - the school that the movie and television show Fame were based on.

As if Stanley doesn't already have a lot on his plate with the recording of a new KISS album, touring with the band, and having an infant and toddler at home, he is also bringing his artwork back to the Chicago area for an exhibit of his work.

Stanley is scheduled to appear at his exhibits on September 11 and 12 at Wentworth Galleries in Schaumberg at the Woodfield Shopping Center.

Somehow, despite Stanley's chaotic schedule, whilst wielding a guitar in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, the superhero himself had time to answer a few questions on art, rock and roll, and what he's learned about life.

"The great thing about doing art shows is you get to meet the people who are interested in your art, and I think that when you're purchasing a piece of art it's a tremendous bonus to get to meet the artist because you get a chance to pick their brain a bit and find out first hand what the piece is about for the artist," explains Stanley, "But on the other hand, I think that ultimately - as I say to most of the people who are acquiring art - I can tell you my reality of a piece but ultimately what's more important will be yours. I can tell you what a piece means to me but just as valid if not more is what it means to you."

And the same can be said of any of the arts - even any given song written by Stanley could have meant one thing to him as the composer and something completely different to the listener.

"And both are completely valid; I think that's what creating art is about. I think that as the person creating it from inception doesn't necessarily mean that we have a monopoly on what that piece means - we can only tell you what it means to us."

With Stanley's role in simply one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world, he has indirectly acted as somewhat of a gateway to expose some people to art who might not have known much about it in the past other than maybe what their local art museum has to offer.

"Many people have not availed themselves the possibility of going to either an art museum or gallery, or for that matter the theater, because it has been made into an elite club by a certain snob set of perhaps the critics who actually cut their own throats by doing it, by intimidating people into believing that an opinion is only valid if it's educated - you cut off the masses from appreciating and supporting the arts. It's absurd. Any opinion is valid because it comes from an individual, it doesn't need an education. Plus, the opinion of the person next to you had no relevance to whether or not a piece, or a theatrical piece, emotes emotion from you. So the whole notion that only an educated opinion is valid is absurd. If somebody is a vegetarian and the person next to them loves steak, they're opinion has no relevance. So perhaps by opening the door in a way to people who might not usually come to a gallery, in addition to quite a few people who obviously are collecting original pieces and quite expensive pieces, but by opening the door to the others I think that not only do they get a chance to see what art can do for them, they also get a chance to realize perhaps that they can create art."

Stanley continues: "I have to say that there are people who come to the galleries who have never, ever been to a KISS concert, and there are also people coming to the galleries who have never been to a gallery. So it's a great cross section and I'm a big believer in knocking down any doors that keep people out. I'm not a fan of clubs of elitism or exclusivity."

Paul StanleyMindy Tiberi, the director of Wentworth Galleries in Schaumberg, had commented on the appeal of one of Stanley's previous exhibits in the Chicago area: "Paul Stanley has a very strong fan base. His fans may start out wanting a piece of his art just because they are KISS fans but they quickly realize that his art offers them a whole other dimension of his creativity and they start collecting and are thrilled with the work he produces. We've also had non-KISS fans who have no idea who Paul Stanley is and they see the work hanging at Wentworth Gallery and love it and buy it."

Although Stanley's pieces have come from his private, emotional side, now that so many more people are standing up and taking notice does he feel any pressure at all to create works to please others?

"Never. Never. The basis of my art is always to be true to myself. I don't feel any pressure because in my mind anybody who is experiencing or seeing my adventure is on it with me. If someone were to look at two or three pieces perhaps and say that they don't appear to be done by the same artist, I would say well one common element in all of them is vivid color. But outside of that I've been very lucky to have had enormous success very quickly, but in saying that I'm still very much developing in front of people. I don't want to have a style, because again that would be confining. That would be against everything that I try to do with art and with music. I think you can only run into problems when you try to second guess the public. You can never please everyone anyway, so at least make sure you have one fan - you."

Despite the fact that both Stanley's music and art work come from that innovative place within him - is there anything that his art gives him that music does not?

"Art is, for me, very primal. And it also has less boundaries or rules. I'm sure there are many rules that exist," Stanley chuckles softly, "But I have no knowledge them, and that's probably what makes it work for me, makes it enjoyable. I like to say that the only boundaries for me are the edges of the canvas. So opposed to music where there really are formats and rules that have to be followed for a piece to work, you have to have a musical chord foundation with a melody that relates to the chords in terms of the musicality. And then on top of that you have to have a lyric that works within the confines of the structure. So it's terrific but there are set rules that if you don't follow it just doesn't work."

Likewise, is there anything that Stanley attains from music that he does not from art?

"Tremendously. There's a different aspect - singing gives me a chance to find out what I'm capable of in terms of range, in terms of style, but also in terms of octaves. I used to be much more concerned with trying to sing perfectly, at least in rock, and I have found that at this point I'm more concerned with finding the balance between immediacy and being in pitch. That, and again, painting a picture with music - the levels you have to work on, the melodies, the lyrics, it's a very different process. I think that art is less planned for me. I got involved in art as a way of purging, as a way of using colors and textures in almost a stream of consciousness. So they're very different but when they work the result is equally satisfying."

So does he enjoy the structure in music as much as he enjoys the lack thereof in art?

"Totally. I'd hate to say it's kind of like doing a crossword puzzle - you really have to fill in all the boxes with the right words or the total picture is not right."

With being consumed by the process of writing and recording a new album, is it difficult to change gears and have the time for painting?

"No, because everything that I do is a reflection of who I am. So anything I put myself to the other things in my life are part of the soup. They're part of what makes it what it is and makes me what I am. So my two little kids can only make my painting better, my music better, my performing better. It's all interconnected. But yes, I'd have to say that most people would hang themselves with my schedule. I manage to compartmentalize and prioritize and I go from one to the other. I don't do anything unless I know that I can give it 100 percent. So, that's always my main concern. Just finishing up producing the new KISS album, having a vision of what we should be doing, and seeing it through from inception to completion, and having my name on nine of 11 songs on the album - and seeing that everybody is as pleased with the album as I am. I think it goes beyond anybody's expectations within the band and anybody who's heard it has been blown away. So, mission accomplished."

Paul Stanley

2009 has already been a hectic year for the band KISS having already played throughout both South America and Canada - and with a few U.S. shows here and there as well; does Stanley bring his art practice on the road with him?

"I don't want to, I'm in another compartment. I've said to people I don't bring my paint brushes on stage and I don't bring my guitar in my art studio," Stanley chortles, "I'd have a lot of people scratching their head at either."

One might say that any musician or artist is a 'creative' person but there is so much more to what that means than just the label or textbook definition of the word. Does Paul Stanley define himself as a creative person?

"Very much so. I think that creativity is a big part of how anyone defines themselves - you either are or you aren't. And the more creative you are the more you get to know yourself. I see being creative as a means for getting to know myself, anything I do puts me more in touch with who I am. So I define myself by what I do. It gives you the sense of eternal youth because you're always discovering something about yourself and you're always discovering more of what you're capable of. So every creative outlet that I find gives me an incredible - I guess - a recharge. Doing The Phantom of the Opera was stunning for me. To go to this amazing theater and see my name on the marquee - inarguably the most successful show in history - and having to audition to do the roll, was defining for me. I know for a fact that when I went into Phantom there were a lot of people who very possessive of the show believed that I was going to desecrate their favorite musical. And I got standing ovations at every show from my first to my last, that's eight shows a week. I remember a letter from one woman saying that when she heard I was in the show she cancelled her tickets and then at the last minute decided to go and said it was the best performance she ever saw. That's gratifying, but for me it's not about proving people wrong, it's more about proving me right. And again, it brought people into the theater who've never been there, and maybe after going realized that great theater is better than a lot of film."

So after having been in the music industry for more than three and a half decades, having had an amazing career and visiting pretty much every corner of the Earth, what has that experience taught Stanley that maybe he might not have learned if he'd gone the route of being a doctor or lawyer?

"That's interesting," Stanley muses. "I don't know because I wasn't cut out for that. What I do know is that belief in yourself coupled with a realistic assessment of what you're capable of will get you anywhere you want to go. So, had I chosen to be a lawyer - if I passed the bar exam - I probably wouldn't have been a very good lawyer. But I didn't pursue that because I really think at some point people need to do an accounting and kind of access who they are and what they really want and what they're capable of. It's one thing to aspire to something; it's another thing to be capable of it. If you're actually capable of something then the only thing standing between you and success is hard work."

In closing, Paul Stanley commented on the forthcoming KISS album, Sonic Boom, which is due out October 6:

"...it's a defining moment for us; it's as good as anything we've done and we're very, very proud of it. And I think people are going to be blown away."

For more information on the September 11 and 12 exhibits of Paul Stanley's art at Wentworth Galleries please call 800-732-6140 or visit: www.wentworthgallery.com.

*Photos of Paul Stanley with his art by Al Soluri.