HOLLYWOOD — Marilyn Manson is staring deep into a painting of an androgynous child holding a stone gray doll. Neither the child nor the doll has hands.
"This is the one I chose as the showpiece," the rocker says of "Hand of Glory," one of more than 50 watercolor paintings in his first exhibit, "The Golden Age of Grotesque."
"The hand is a symbol of power and it represents stealing innocence and imagination from children," he explains, towering over the work in his platform shoes and "Beetlejuice" suit. "If you break down the whole show, that's what it's about. Me as a modern-day Peter Pan, not wanting to grow up. There's a difference being immature and being able to still think like a child."
Manson goes on to reveal perhaps the most interesting facet of his art. "In fact, the paint box I used for most everything is an 'Alice in Wonderland' metal box made for kids," he says, stone-faced. "I also have a 1920s mortician paint kit used for retouching cadavers."
Around the bright Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions space, fellow stars are sizing up the exhibit. Flea studies "The Enabler," a portrait of one of Manson's friends named after what the 12-step program labels an instigator. Dave Navarro and Andy Dick talk of their own portraits by Manson hanging on their walls. Jack Osbourne, trailed by cameras, checks the prices of a few pieces.
"I didn't even know he painted until I got the invitation for this," confesses Korn drummer David Silveria.
What few realize is that Manson has been painting since he was a child. "One of my paintings was in my high school yearbook," the singer crows. "I was quite excited about that. I think it was my rendition of an Iron Maiden album or something like that."
Two of Manson's first pieces, self-portraits in shades of gray, are included in the exhibit, though most of the work is from 1997 to as recently as last week.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the paintings is how incredibly proficient they are. This is not just a celebrity capitalizing on a hobby.
"I started doing this for myself and I would paint portraits for my friends as gifts," Manson says. "People kept saying, 'You should have a show.' It was never my intention to be, 'I'm famous, and I'm going to try to make money off paintings too,' because I painted a long time before I sang. And I'm probably a better painter than a singer, in some people's opinion."
"The Golden Age of Grotesque" is also the title of Manson's forthcoming album, although he says he is not drawing any lines between music and art.
"It's just an era that I am trying to embark upon," he explains. "It's all about bringing back the most intense, entertaining, decadent, nosebleed-inducing, erection-giving, ass-stabbing ... fun. I think you can call it fun."
On Friday night, the free exhibit will open to the public and Manson will sign lithographs and posters of his original work, which is also for sale, ranging from $1,500 to $20,000 (see "Marilyn Manson To Be Hung In Los Angeles").