If his vibrant paintings and colorful songwriting is any indication, the mind of Cris Kirkwood is a lively place indeed. Just ask the 51-year-old musician and artist himself, who tends to live in his head often.
That's not a slight against Kirkwood -- a founding member of highly influential local rock band Meat Puppets along with his brother Curt -- as he admits to doing some of his better work while living in his head, whether it was collaborating on songs or creating his bizarrely beautiful drawings and paintings.
"I really do just let the things fall on the paper as they will," Kirkwood says of the self-described ink on paper "doodlings" he's created during his lifetime. A number of these freaky-deaky drawings are adorned with watercolor for an added touch of weirdness, which you can experience for yourself via the dozen or so paintings hanging on the walls of Carly's Bistro during the month of March.
While primarily known as a bassist, Kirkwood has also spent a majority of his life drawing and doodling, especially during his childhood days. In fact, both he and his brother began exploring their artistic leanings while being raised in Paradise Valley back in the 1970's.
"I realized as a kid that I really liked to draw, but Curt was always the arty one, and was actually into different kinds of arts. And I did stuff with him as a kid," Kirkwood says. "Curt was into drawing and was into certain animators, especially Walt Disney ones, as a kid and some of that rubbed off a little bit. But I always had a penchant for doodling, which I applied to a few things. And since then, it's just become one of the things that I just have always done, like playing music."
The art of both Kirkwood's has appeared on the Meat Puppet's various fliers, album sleeves, inserts, and CDs throughout the lifespan of the band. While Curt's colorfully minimalist paintings (seen on the cover for such discs as Meat Puppets II, Huevos, and Monsters) are more in the vein of Mexican folk art, Cris' works are far more surreal and fantastical. Populated by what could best be described an odd bestiary of monsters and creatures, its the kind of imagery you'd find in only the weirdest dreams.
"The things I draw tend to do tend to be more like comic art almost. I'm like to drawn cartoony kinda crap," he says. "It's just the stuff I've always done. Its just one of those things that I find interesting, like music, where you can let go and just apply yourself to it. At a certain point, the pen just became so comfortable in my hand."
His characters appeared on the CD for the band's 1994 album Too High Too Die, and their record label Polygram even released a promotional coloring book to go along with the disc.
Kirkwood's freaky-deaky drawings take on an even odder appearance when transformed into watercolor paintings.
"I take my drawings and then I enlarge them and paint them. Draw 'em large and paint them with watercolors," he says. "And the colors tend to all tie it together where all the little guys are brightened up and look even weirder."
The weird nature of Kirkwood's art is only matched by his unusual life. After spending years performing at Valley venues in the 1980s, the Meat Puppets rose to nationwide after being signed to a major-label record deal and touring with the like of Nirvana. (They even performed alongside Kurt Cobain on the grunge legend's venerated MTV Unplugged session in 1993).
Cris' world eventually came crashing down around him in due to his heroin addiction (which he's since managed to kick) and other personal tragedies. Even during the dank sorrows of these dark periods, including a three-year prison term he endured after getting shot by a Phoenix security guard following an altercation in 2003, Cris continued drawing.
"Yeah, I did some stuff back then that was intense, some of my most intense work," Kirkwood says. "They've always been my little drawings, which is really me just expunging things. It always seems to come from an interesting part of the mind."
Kirkwood also suffered from epilepsy during his 30s, which he said actually benefited his art.
"Here's a freaky thing: I started having seizures and they were never really diagnosed and they went away after about eight years once the dope kicked in. But that really articulated the drawings. It was weird, all of a sudden I was really able to just draw things and just push my imagination and just come up with shit," he says. "I looked into it and there's some things I've found that spoke of how epileptics have certain behaviors highlighted or enforced by their epilepsy."
Kirkwood is in a far better place these days and has shown his work at local establishments.
"This is time I've really had a show like this, having all my art up for one whole session. I've had a few things shown here and there and I've sold some stuff," he says. "This is kinda all coming out of that, the last few years I discovered the way these things print up. Shit's kinda organically, suddenly taking on a life of its own."
An artist reception for Cris Kirkwood's art show will take place at 8 p.m. tonight at Carly's Bistro. A special acoustic set a by the artist, Ruth Wilson, and Elmo Kirkwood take place at the event. Admission is free.
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