How Joe Satriani Moved ‘Beyond Reality’ With New Art Exhibition: Exclusive Interview
Joe Satriani has always demonstrated an interest in finding new and different ways to express himself creatively.
Proof can be found on his upcoming studio album The Elephants of Mars, which is due on April 8. He set a goal to establish a new standard for instrumental guitar albums, feeling strongly that there was room to be "far more creative and entertaining."
Similarly, he found himself wanting to deepen his own understanding of art and painting. Satriani has long been engaged in creating different forms of art that have wound up in a variety of places, including his own album sleeves, guitar picks and straps and even guitars. A well-received 2013 art book, Joe's Art, featured a number of his favorite sketches.
But Satriani wanted to move further into the more traditional areas and learn how to paint on canvas, among other things. He enlisted the support of his wife Rubina, who has a degree in art, then unknowingly opened a door to a major artistic journey that has produced more than 100 pieces in the past year.
His work will now be showcased at an art exhibition in conjunction with the Wentworth Gallery, opening Friday in Hollywood, Fla. "Joe Satriani: Beyond Reality" features original canvas art and hand-painted guitars.
The new collection continues to engage his love of alien and space themes, while also exploring more abstract aspects, as Satriani said in this exclusive interview with UCR.
Fans are aware that you've had a longtime interest in art. How did you first get started?
[Laughs.] You have to imagine that I’m a young kid growing up that has two older sisters who are going to art school. They have degrees in fine art, so there was art going around all of the time in the house. My dad was actually a good painter, although he never bothered really getting into it. But I was the wildcard, to tell you the truth. I was not your standard kid who could draw.
I could draw crazy looking things, but straight lines and perfect circles eluded me. I was encouraged nonetheless, to join in anytime. We all created quite a lot of crazy art growing up. I just kept doing it and it didn’t really creep into my music career until The Extremist album. I had a lot of time on my hands. I was spending a lot of time just living at Le Parc Hotel in Hollywood while I was trying to finish up the album. I was sketching all of the time and eventually, those sketches wound up in the album and CD booklet.
Skipping ahead a little bit, some of my drawings wound up on the merchandise, tour t-shirts, things like that and then [guitar] picks. The guitar strap line with D’Addario / Planet Waves, and getting all of that out there. We just started to grow that. Then, I was getting into digital art, where I would take sketches from my sketchbook. I’d scan them and then I’d put them in the computer and manipulate them. As an experiment, I made a book in 2013 and I put all of those drawings in this art book, just to see if people would react differently when they saw them in a book. They did. It was really interesting to see that happen.
It was from that that [filmmaker] Ned [Evett] got the idea to create a video and then from that, we came up with the idea for the Crystal Planet series. So it’s a good lesson in that, if you make something – I don’t want to say, if you build it, they will come, but it’s kind of like that! [Laughs.] If you create something palpable, it has a chance of creating something else.
See Samples of Joe Satriani's Art
When it comes to the art, how far back does it go?
It goes back actually, quite a bit. When we started, [Wentworth Gallery CEO] Christian [O'Mahony] had no idea if I could really paint canvases the way he thought would be best. All I had were pictures of all of these funny canvases [of different sizes]. They were just things I was buying at the art store that were on sale and I was just experimenting. He was really impressed with the guitar lines that I had done.
We had done over 100 guitars with Ibanez, but those were player guitars. It was a very different setup to get those guitars at professional grade. He said, “Well, how about if I buy 10 guitars from Ibanez and send them to you, would you paint them?” I said, “Yeah, let me set it up with Ibanez.” Eventually, what had happened is because of supply-chain issues, the only way to do it was for Christian to actually buy retail online, 10 of the JS140s, the economy guitar, as full guitars. So when they came to me in these boxes, I had to take the guitars apart. [Laughs.]
You know, usually I would get a body and it would be totally cleaned and prepped and I’d be wearing gloves, the way I did the Ibanez illustrated series, in a clean room. But instead, I wound up in my basement with sandpaper, screwdrivers and drills and everything and I had to take these guitar parts apart from scratch. I’d never done that before. I’d save all of the parts and I had to sand and prep the wood, paint them and I found a guy up in Oregon, Jerry Dorsch, who did the sealing for me. He sent them back and then I had to reassemble the guitars so that acoustically, that they played.
But they are art pieces. They’re not meant to be a “pull ‘em out and go out and do a gig” kind of a piece. That whole process really took a long time. Not the painting part, but just the disassembly and the reassembly. That was quite an ordeal. That started in October of last year. It took a month and a half or more to be able to get through all of them, because there’s drawing time as well, you know. Some of them had some paints on there that required a lot of drawing.
As soon as he got the guitars, he was like, “Oh my God, I love these. Can you do that on canvases?” That got the ball rolling and I had to pause quite a bit, because I was recording the album. Towards the end, once we realized that we were really going to do these gallery shows, Christian said, “Well, ideally, I’d like to have 300 pieces” and we were like, “How’s that going to work?” [Laughs.]
I realized I should have come up with a simpler style – like, three lines, that would have done it. But I said, “This is what I like to do and it takes some time.” We were able to get it done. Just the fact that we got over 100 pieces that he can sift through is really pretty remarkable. I’m so grateful that someone gave me the opportunity to do some artwork, because I love it.
What's your favorite piece?
You know, the last batch that I sent off, I thought I had achieved a new level of abstract that I’d been really trying to do for a long time. I did some really big 40x40s, and there were a few of the abstracts that I just thought they were the best things I’d ever done. So if you like abstracts, you’d be attracted to those.