- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Only someone as iconic as Ringo Starr would consider delving into an entirely new art form a hobby.

“I am a busy guy, but also I do like to have downtime,” the former Beatle says by telephone from London.

The work produced in his “downtime” will be on display this weekend. The Ringo Starr Fine Art Show opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday at the Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The free exhibit, sponsored by local radio station WBIG-FM (Big 100.3), will feature hand-signed pieces available for purchase. The limited-edition images will not be available again once they have sold out.

The show marks the first time that one exhibition will have signed artwork by all four Beatles. Work by the late George Harrison and John Lennon, as well as Paul McCartney also will be for sale.

Mr. Starr likes to paint in acrylics and oils. “I live in Monte Carlo, where the light is so great,” the drummer says. The work to be seen this weekend, however, was produced in a very different medium. On tour a couple years ago with his All-Starr Band, he sought something to fill the long hours spent in hotel rooms. He had a computer with him and found a paint program. He began by using a mouse, but finding that awkward, he got a drawing palette.

“I started to keep myself amused by doing these heads,” he says of his primarily portrait art. “It was just for my own entertainment.” He gave his works titles only because he had to in order to save the files, he says.

Mr. Starr is a legend, though, so there’s a high demand even for what he does as a hobby.

His colorful works, mainly of male faces, show a clear pop art influence, but Mr. Starr is versed in a wide range of art. “I had a home in Amsterdam for six years, so Rembrandt is my all-time hero,” he says. He also likes van Gogh’s self-portraits. But the modest Mr. Starr is quick to add, “These guys are painters. I’m a musician who likes to have fun.”

Mr. Starr could have retired years ago and still remained a household name as a member of the greatest rock band in history, but he still plays about 35 gigs a year with his touring band, which in its latest incarnation includes musicians Sheila E., Billy Squire and Edgar Winter.

“I could rest on my dollar bills. That’s not why I’m here,” he says. “My main love is to play my drums. I love to write. I love to hang out with musicians.”

Because he doesn’t need the money, he’s donating his proceeds from the sale of his art to the Lotus Foundation, a charity he runs with his wife, actress Barbara Bach, “to try to do a bit of good in the world.”

The broad-based organization — it helps in the areas of child welfare, women’s issues, animal protection and addiction recovery — aids established charities as well as those just starting out.

“We learned in the past we better fund somebody for three years, so they don’t have to worry about the phone bill or whatever,” says Mr. Starr, who meets twice a year with his wife and one other board member to go through funding requests.

There’s one thing Mr. Starr is not modest about, and rightfully so: the legacy of the Beatles. “We made that music in the 1960s; it was all over by 1970. It still holds up today against any band that’s out there,” he says. “We didn’t sit there when making the music thinking, ‘In 2007, they’ll love this.’ ‘

Beatlemania is still going strong, as this reporter witnessed when girls and women screamed as Mr. Starr and Mr. McCartney stepped onto the red carpet last year for the premiere in Las Vegas of the Cirque du Soleil show “LOVE.” Nevertheless, Mr. Starr is quick to pass over the craze and bring the conversation back to the music.

“I get excited because Paul and I are still alive and kicking,” he says. “We do have the opportunity to do what we still love to do.”

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