Over the next few days, MTV’s Newsroom will be featuring items from the upcoming Experience Music Project special exhibit, “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses,” which opens at the Seattle museum on Saturday (April 16). Today’s artifacts include Kurt Cobain’s “The New American Gothic” painting and a letter sent to Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic about Cobain’s early musical promise. The commentary on these objects are provided by exhibit curator Jacob McMurray.
“New American Gothic”
“This is Kurt Cobain’s ’The New American Gothic,’ a painting that he made in 1984 when he was in high school. One of the things that I think is really exciting about this is … we know Kurt Cobain for his music, but he was a really talented artist as well. He created art throughout his career and in fact he came up with all the album cover ideas for Nevermind and In Utero and created the album art for Incesticide. We have it in this [early] section of the gallery because it really gives a flavor of that [President Ronald] Reagan-era punk rock milieu that he’s growing up in. His reimagining of the “American Gothic” farming couple into these post-nuclear holocaust ancient punk rock mutants.”
The painting hangs in one of the first sections of the exhibit alongside a Reagan pencil drawing from the same era and photos of Cobain in his high school drawing class as well as an entry form from a high school art show in which he was a participant. If you look closely at it, the man in the untitled mixed-media work created in Mr. Robert Hunter’s art class during Cobain’s 1984-85 senior year at Aberdeen’s Weatherax High School has a mohawk, is wearing wraparound black sunglasses, a single crucifix earring and a logo on his leather jacket that reads: “Nuclear Mutants of America.” His companion is rocking an asymmetrical punk hairdo, a single, sword-like earring and the world-weary look of a disaffected punk. The background is an airbrushed swirl of ominous red, yellow and white toxic clouds and in addition to his signature, Cobain marked the work with a thumbprint.
“Buzz Osborne from the Melvins wrote to Krist Novoselic on April 16, 1986. Krist and his girlfriend, Shelly, had moved to near Phoenix, so Buzz was catching them up on what was going on in Gray’s Harbor [Washington] and he says in there, ’Cobain and [drummer] Dale [Crover of the Melvins] went up to his aunt’s house and made a tape of some of Kurt’s songs. I was pretty impressed, some of his songs are killer.’ This was at a time when Kurt was doing his ’Fecal Matter’ demo, that was his band at the time. Buzz says … I love this, it’s so prophetic, ’I think [Cobain] could have some kind of future in music if he keeps at it.’ ”
Come back all week for more on the Nirvana exhibit!