Mike Shinoda can trace his roots as an artist back to age 3.
"When my parents would take me to dinner, they would give me a napkin and pen when I was done eating so I wasn't squirming around," the Linkin Park/ Fort Minor MC recalled, citing a popular parenting technique. "It began as something to keep me quiet and occupied and turned into something I love to do."
Now, approximately 25 years later, Shinoda is hosting the first exhibition of his visual art, Diamonds Spades Hearts Clubs, Sunday at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. (Click here to see some of Shinoda's paintings.)
"It's influenced by street art, Japanese art and there's a lot of gambling imagery in this series," Shinoda said of his collection. "I actually don't love to gamble, but I think what artists do in music is a gamble and a lot of things in my life are a gamble, and that's how those things started working their way in there. And I just thought it'd be fun to unify the pieces with a common thread."
Before Linkin Park broke big, Shinoda graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, with a degree in illustration, a medium he's focused on since he was a fourth grader obsessed with drawing Garfield. He was so consumed with sketching the cartoon cat, creator Jim Davis complimented his work once after Shinoda sent it in.
"My style was more rendered, realistic," Shinoda said of his early creations, "and as time went by, it turned into this two-dimensional thing — partially a product of always loving cartoons and animation and partially because I live a really fast-paced life and the band takes up a ton of my time, so I don't have time to render out all my ideas. It sounds funny to say I'm busy, so I paint faster, but that's reality."
Shinoda, along with Linkin Park DJ and Art Center classmate Joe Hahn, has designed LP's artwork in the past, and the art for his Fort Minor album is based on a series of 10 paintings he's showing for the first time Sunday.
Five other artists will also be featured in the exhibit: Craola, Dalek, Gary Baseman, Seen and Hahn. "His stuff is very rendered and photo-realistic, but really comic booky and dark," Shinoda said of his bandmate's work. "[He painted] a decapitated head with no jaw and a 12-inch tongue hanging out of its mouth, so I had to work with that."
Shinoda compared collaborating in the visual art realm to writing songs with Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. "You just have to be respectful of what the other person's doing and do what's right for the song, or in this case, the painting," he said.
In general, the MC said he considers painting and making music to be quite similar. "You have to incorporate your subconscious visceral emotion mixed with a cool, collected, logical side," he explained. "In order for it to work, you have to use both."
Speaking of music, Linkin Park are making significant progress on their next album, and have whittled 100 songs down to 20 with the help of producer Rick Rubin (see "Mike Shinoda Says Linkin Park Halfway Done With New Album). "I'm having the most fun I've ever had working on a record, so hopefully that translates," Shinoda said. "Rick and I were talking yesterday, reviewing some of the lyrics, and out of nowhere he was like, 'I love this record.' That's such a good feeling. To get him excited makes me feel like we're doing something interesting."
Shinoda is also executive producing the next album from Los Angeles hip-hop group Styles of Beyond for LP's Machine Shop imprint. "They're doing so many things they've never done before and not relying on someone else to do it for them, either," Shinoda said. "If there's one thing to look for, they just have the most unique sense of humor and it totally comes through on their record."