Visual Arts

"Six-String Masterpieces" Brings Art Guitars to Mesa Arts Center

Pete Townsend's intentionally trashed countless guitars on stage. But the guitarist of The Who would probably be hard-pressed to smash a single axe in the "Six-String Masterpieces" exhibit that opened Friday at Mesa Arts Center. Each guitar in this exhibition is a custom work of art, painted by a well-known artist or rock star.

"Six-String Masterpieces" features about 60 Dean Guitars, with designs that range from whimsical and almost childlike (Ozzy Osbourne's colored pencil drawing with the words "Go Fucking Silly") to sophisticated, sculpted sci-fi designs (artist Colin Christian's space bubble/alien girl guitar).

Florida-based curator Curse Mackey, who used to play in industrial bands Pigface and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, was on hand for the opening reception at MAC. He first put the "Six-String Masterpieces" exhibit together in 2005, after a successful exhibit of Burton Snowboards dubbed "Rides of Passage." Mackey says the original show was a tribute to late Pantera and Damage Plan guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, who was shot to death by a deranged fan onstage in Ohio in 2004.

"There's an underlying theme of Darrell's spirit throughout this exhibit, because it started as a tribute to him, and it's kind of grown and taken on its own legs," Mackey says.

Dean Guitars donated all of the instruments for the exhibit. Mackey sent the guitar bodies to rock stars and artists for painting, then on to Dean for finishing and final assemblage.

Participating musicians in the exhibit at Mesa Arts Center include Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Bret Michaels of Poison, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), GWAR, Jon Davis and Munky of Korn, Heart singer Nancy Wilson, Scott Ian (Anthrax), and Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society. National artists (Mark Ryden, Marc Cody) also contributed guitar art, along with notable Phoenix-area artists like graffiti artist Such Styles, tattooist Sage O'Connell, and Matthew G. Smith.

So how does Mackey find all these people to paint these guitars? "Typically, either I know them, or they're friend of friends," he says. "Some of the rock stars in the first wave, sometimes it just took a lot of networking and trying to reach the right person who could find the right-hand man of an artist. With Ozzy, the way we got him was, I had this exhibit out on Ozzfest in 2006, so he saw it and Sharon saw it, and they just thought it was awesome. So over the course of Ozzfest, getting to have a few meetings with Ozzy, and I said, 'Hey man, what do you think about doing one of these?' And he said, 'All right, I'll do one,' and then two years later, a box finally arrived. I was like, 'Ah! There it is.'"

Black Veil Brides guitarist Ashley Purdy, whose band played at 98 KUPD's U-Fest on Saturday, also attended the "Six-String Masterpieces" opening reception at MAC.

Purdy created a '60s porn collage guitar for the exhibit. "I love vintage, and I love pinups. All of this stuff is from the 1969-era of Playboy magazine," Purdy says, pointing at various parts of the guitar. "These are all clippings from actual magazines, collaged on there. I spent some time adding details to it, like hidden little treasures in the collage. We drink a lot of Seagram's Seven, so there's a bottle of that in there."

After touring with the exhibit, guitars are auctioned off for a music education charity called Little Kids Rock.

To date, Mackey says the auctions have raised $200,000 for the organization. The most expensive guitar to go at auction was one painted with an image of a big-eyed cartoon girl by Mark Ryden -- it sold for $32,000 at a House of Blues auction in 2007.

"Six-String Masterpieces" runs through Sunday, December 4, at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main Street. Call 480-644-6500 or visit for more information.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea