Studio  September 17, 2021  Jordan Riefe

Gene Simmons’ Art Gallery Debut: An Interview with the KISS Legend

Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Still of Gene Simmons in the studio, featured in a video produced and shared by Animazing Gallery.

“Yes, I’m old and famous, but did you know I’m also an artist?” It’s a question that might have been posed by actors Anthony Quinn and Tony Curtis—and, in recent years, Sylvester Stallone and Val Kilmer. Presidents Eisenhower, Carter, and George W. Bush painted, Winston Churchill, too.

Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Still of a Gene Simmons drawing, featured in a video produced by Animazing Gallery.

Gene Simmons is the bassist and merchandising maestro behind the legendary rock group, KISS. Everyone remembers Simmons, the one with the tongue, and the Demon makeup, but what sets him apart from other celebrity doodlers is that he’s been drawing for six decades. Inspired by comic books and movies as a child, in his teen years he had hundreds of illustrations published in fanzines under the name Gene Klein.

During the pandemic, Simmons decided to work in oil for the first time. The result is a series of large-scale canvases as well as sketches and drawings for his art debut, Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, beginning October 21.

Gene Simmons, Giant Eight Foot Long Black Gold.
Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Gene Simmons, Giant Eight Foot Long Black Gold.

“I never went to art school,” the seventy-one-year-old rocker tells Art & Object. “On the other hand, I can’t read or write music, but I write songs. We’ve done okay. So, maybe at the end of the day, dive into the deep end and see what you can come up with.” What Simmons has come up with are canvases like Giant Eight Foot Long Black Gold, a yellow and red starburst on a black background with a hyper-impasto core of gold. Also on display is Large Multi-Color Splatter, a drip canvas in teal, red, yellow, purple, and black.

“Some of my pieces, yes, they’re an homage to Jackson Pollock and that school,” notes Simmons.

Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Gene Simmons, Large Multi-Color Splatter.

An Israeli immigrant from the age of eight, Chaim Witz grew up in New York City but changed his name long before joining his first rock band. As a member of Wicked Lester, he met guitarist Stanley Eisen, who became Paul Stanley when he and Simmons left to form KISS with Peter Criss on drums and Paul “Ace” Frehly on lead guitar. They cut their first album in 1974. It launched a career that would produce thirty gold and fourteen platinum albums over forty-one years.

The pandemic struck right in the middle of the band’s “End of the Road Tour,” which resumed in August. Simmons is hoping to play another 200 cities before finally hanging up the platform heels for good.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0

Gene Simmons fire breathing at el Azkena Rock Festival in 2010.

“If I was in U2 or the Stones, both amazing classic bands, I could be Keith or the Edge, wear a pair of comfortable sneakers and a t-shirt, and you're done, no fuss, no muss, easypeasy, no sweat. But no, I have to wear eight-inch platform heels. Each of the dragon boots weighs as much as a bowling ball. So you're walking around with two bowling balls on your feet, forty pounds of armor studs, guitar, and all that stuff. Then I got to spit fire, fly through the air, it’s exhausting! The Stones, god bless ‘em, can keep doing this into their eighties,” he groans.

During the band’s heyday, Simmons dated women like Cher and Diana Ross, regulars at Studio 54 where he was introduced to Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, actor Al Pacino, and performer Liza Minelli, among other notables.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.
Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.
Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.
Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

“I found myself at Warhol’s studio watching him direct his art being created, because he wasn’t so much picking up a paintbrush as directing people what to do. And again it goes to the heart of the matter. There’s no one way to do art,” Simmons concludes.

“I found him and people like Truman Capote and leaders of the arts, intellectuals, to be very inquisitive. In terms of Andy, he was the shyest person you’d ever met. They'd hardly ever look into your face. Eye contact. I think it had to do with personal issues,” he speculates. “Maybe there's a quality that you can come up with, which is you don’t learn the style, you just are the style. Because you take a look at Warhol, you immediately recognize the style.”

Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Installation View of Gene Simmons ArtWorks at Animazing Gallery, Las Vegas.

Animazing Gallery CEO Nick Leone was having dinner with Simmons when the rocker showed him photos of the artworks on his phone. “Artists in general, like anyone who's branding themselves, have a tendency to lean toward a certain look and a certain design,” offers Leone. “When you look at Andy Warhol's work, or Lichtenstein’s work, you know who the artist is, which is commendable. But with Gene’s work, what I love is the fact that it’s so versatile. The work speaks for itself. That's what a true artist is, when you can stand back and let the work speak volumes and will lead the viewer to their own interpretation. And I think Gene’s work does exactly that.”

Animazing will offer Simmons’ work for prices ranging between $1,000 to $250,000, and has future plans with the rock star, who is unconcerned what critics may say about his work. “Nothing matters as much to me as me,” says Simmons. “I’ve got to like it. I don’t care if it’s celebrated around the world if I don't like it. So, perhaps my harshest critic is yours truly. I like my stuff. That’s my suit of armor that protects me against other people that may not. And I take great comfort in the idea that not everyone likes Jesus either. You can’t please everybody.”

36.1221671, -115.1689528

 "The Gene Simmons ArtWorks" Debut
Start Date:
October 22, 2021
End Date:
October 23, 2021
Venue:
Animazing Gallery
About the Author

Jordan Riefe

Jordan Riefe has been covering the film business since the late 90s for outlets like Reuters, THR.com, and The Wrap. He wrote a movie that was produced in China in 2007. Riefe currently serves as West Coast theatre critic for The Hollywood Reporter, while also covering art and culture for The Guardian, Cultured Magazine, LA Weekly and KCET Artbound.

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