SAN DIEGO – Drumming, at its best, can be an art form. Even so, Chad Smith still needed some persuasion before agreeing to create framed, gallery-ready “rhythm on canvas” art works with his drums and sticks, rather than with paint and brushes.
“I did have to be convinced,” acknowledged Smith, who has been the drummer in Red Hot Chili Peppers since 1988 and counts Ozzy Osbourne, Brandi Carlile and Wu-Tang Clan among his many other musical collaborators.
To be convinced, Smith reached out in 2015 to several other drummers, specifically, Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward, Journey’s Steve Smith and the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart. All three were already creating “rhythm on canvas” art works for the Los Angeles-based company SceneFour, whose roster also includes such notable drummers as Cindy Blackman Santana, Terry Bozzio and Billy Cobham, along with vibraphonist Roy Ayers and guitar star Joe Satriani.
“At first, I was like: ‘How was your experience?’ when I talked to the other drummers,” said Smith, 58, whose drumming-fueled art works were on display at Solana Beach’s 3,500-square-foot Exclusive Collections Gallery.
“Then, I met with these people from SceneFour and it seemed cool,” he continued. “For me, as an artist and musician, it’s another avenue, another way to have a creative outlet.”
The process to create these works begins when Smith drums using special pairs of illuminated sticks in a largely darkened studio. As he plays various rhythms, tempos, accents and fills, his drumming is captured with open-shutter photography. The images are then fed into a computer program that enables the colors and textures in each motion-driven image to be isolated and manipulated.
These are then printed onto canvas, acrylic or metal and then framed, but not before Smith can embellish the images in various ways, including adding dabs of paint, if he is so inclined.
“The shutter speed of the cameras lends itself to the fluidity you see in the strokes of the rhythms,” he said. “It’s a really rhythm-based medium, so I thought it was really cool to combine what I love – drumming and music – with making art on a canvas. In this collection, I really wanted the power of how I play the drums to be communicated, so there’s a lot of the bright lights and colors that I see when I’m playing the drums with the florescent sticks.”
Smith discussed his drum-fueled art work in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
Are the images improved if you drum at a faster or slower speed, or if you play using matched grip or traditional grip, or with greater velocity?
I do know how certain things look when they are captured from whatever angle, so I will exaggerate sometimes what I’m trying to achieve and the look of it. But, yeah, anything and all things would change how it looks – matched grip, intensity or the speed; all that contributes to how it looks.
Do you change your drumming for visual effect when being photographed for these pieces?
Sometimes I’m just playing how I would normally play. Other times, I’m purposely thinking of how it would translate to canvas.
Can you give an example?
(Laughs) Like, really exaggerated! I mean, sometimes when I perform, there’s an element of: ‘I’m an entertainer!’ And there’s a twirl (of the sticks) or the movement of your body.
Can you use mallets or brushes, rather than illuminated sticks?
You can use anything, whatever is your tool. Why not? No rules.
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