- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

NEW YORK Paul McCartney and his Beatles song-writing partner John Lennon changed the course of popular music. But that doesn't mean Mr. McCartney thought he could do everything.

For example, Mr. McCartney wanted to paint but didn't believe he could do it because he hadn't attended art school.

Then, about 18 years ago, he and his wife, Linda (who died in 1998), visited Willem de Kooning. The painter was a client of Mrs. McCartney's lawyer-father, and she had known him for years. As the McCartneys were leaving, Mr. de Kooning asked them to choose a painting. They did. Mr. McCartney thought it resembled a purple mountain but asked the painter what it was. The reply: "I don't know. Looks like a couch, huh?"

In that remark, Mr. McCartney says, he found the freedom to paint.

Now 58, he was in New York recently for a showing of his canvases at the Matthew Marks Gallery and a celebration of the publication of "Paul McCartney Paintings" by Little Brown. It was only his second gallery exhibition; the first was in Siegen, Germany, in May 1999.

The paintings weren't for sale, but his prints were, at $1,750 each.

In a single day, Mr. McCartney signed 600 prints: 200 each of his "Big Mountain Face," "Egypt Station" and "Ancient Connections." He also did a few interviews.

"I always agree and suddenly find myself in the middle of it," he said. " 'Silly boy, you should have spread it out more.' I'll be off this evening. I'll be OK. It's just a hard day's day," he said, sitting at a long table in the gallery's workspace.

Q: Did you start painting gradually?

A: I think it was an explosion. Once I got free of my own stupidity, it was just like a volcano erupting. It was the remark Bill de Kooning made that seemed to indicate he had such a free take on painting. I had gotten the mistaken idea that unless I got the exact subject and the exact thought behind it, I shouldn't start. Bill's idea was quite the opposite. He would often start by writing the name of one of his friends on a canvas and painting over it and starting from there. That became more interesting to me than becoming broody. Everything I'd ever wanted to try came out.

Q: How important is a painting's subject?

A: I think people worry about content. Somebody will wait until they have the exactly right idea. I have friends who are like that. It was getting in the way for me, the idea that if I haven't got a deep and meaningful idea, I can't start. Bill said, "Why don't you just start?" He didn't become so much a mentor to me as it was his attitude and one little chance remark that inspired me.

Q: Do you need to be in a certain mood to paint?

A: I need to just have an urge to paint. I say, "I'd love to paint a picture, and I've got time." Often it's just having a bit of time to do it. It's such a nice relief from the pressure of touring. On the world tours I did in the '90s, I painted quite a lot. I surprised people by not taking my days off. In my mind, I was taking the day off. I was painting.

Q: What mood do you then get into while you're painting?

A: If I'm lucky, I go through a door into the painting. I lose myself in the painting. I like that. My thing is about following the accidental, more than trying to paint an accurate bowl of apples. I enjoy most following the paint. It leads me somewhere else. I think I enjoy just letting the magic unfold and letting the spirit of the paint tell me where we're going.

It's similar to music. You get a couple or words or notes or chords that excite you, and you just follow them and add a bit more and see where it takes you. That's the thrill for me. It still is a thrill, which is amazing after all this time.

Q: How do you pick the subject matter of your paintings?

A: People who paint, including myself, get to a point where a bit of angst comes in. If you're doing it for a living, it's worth it to suffer those slings and arrows. If I was going to paint for my own fun, that was one thing I had to avoid.

I invented these characters. One of them is Luigi. If I get to a point in a painting where I'm getting stuck, I imagine Luigi has a restaurant with a little alcove. He's a good friend of mine. He's always saying, "Paint a picture for the alcove." When things get tough, I say, "This is for Luigi. He'll like this." I don't fret it. Lo and behold, five minutes later, I'm at a new point in the painting and I got through the bad patch.

Or, if I'm getting a bit stuck, I become Mr. Blendini. He enjoys blending colors. He can spend hours doing that. I've got Luigi and Blendini. Everyone needs friends like that. Luigi accepts everything I do. He loves it.

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