Artists take their inspiration from a variety of sources, the play of light on water, a dramatic street scene or a simple collection of household items. What about painters themselves? Has their work ever caused a musician to pick up their pen and write a lyric extoling a particular artist?
The two obvious ones that spring to mind are Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Don Mclean waxing lyrically as he sings “paint your palette blue and grey”.
Then Brian and Michael wrote the familiar (at least to my generation) “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs” in 1978. The song is a tribute to the painter L.S. Lowry who famously painted matchstick figures in his pictures.
One of the most comical composers between the 1970s and 1990s was the talented Neil Innes who has many credits to his name and worked on such programs as Monty Python and The Rutles, a take off of the Beatles. After having studied fine art at Goldsmiths in the 1960s it’s no surprise that he penned “Cezanne Says Anne” a musical tale of a girls love of the painter. “I like Cezanne, says Anne” while listing Renoir, Modigliani, Rembrandt, Bruegel, Botticelli, Ernst and Braque. As the song says, surreal.
Botticelli gets another mention by Joni Mitchel in “The only joy in town” and the Counting Crows’ “When I dream of Michelangelo” talks of the masters painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Continuing inside, The Manic Street Preachers pay homage to Willem de Kooning in “Interiors”.
Jay Z has listed a number of artists in his lyrics, Picasso first in “Friend or Foe”. In the 2013 album “Magna Carta” he titles the painter in “Picasso Baby” where his list includes references to Rothko, Koons, Condo, Bacon, da Vinci, Basquiat and Warhol. Although, rather than being inspired by the artists canvas, merely talks of his desire to own their works, seemingly for their status and worth, rather then their artistic merits.
Probably one of the most mentioned artists is unsurprisingly Andy Warhol and his pop culture art and 15 minutes of fame quote have ensured he is not forgotten. Along with Jay Z; David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon and lesser known acts XV, Lousy Robot, Yo La Tengo all refer to Warhol.
Salvador Dali is one of the most recognised names from the art world and Kate Bush talks of a gallery owning Signora Dali, while even Kanye West is aware of the artists melting images in his song “Mercy”. Meanwhile in Todd Rundgren’s song “Just Another Onionhead, Dada Dali”, he paints a musical picture worthy of the Surrealist artist’s canvases.
I started out with a few songs in mind but have discovered that hidden away in the back catalogues and rarely listened to tracks are many references to famous artists. Not all the tracks are good or well known, a number of the artists like Weepies who sing about a Chagall painting are completely unknown to me. However, it’s nice to find that artists are still inspiring musicians and in turn creating more great works.
Your turn!……….. What have I missed? 😀