Shocker! Marilyn Manson Can Paint, Art Critics Say

Some experts, students see value in rocker's watercolors, posted on band's Web site.

Having already endured the wrath of politicians for his lyrics, rock critics for his music and fashionistas for his goth-turned-glam style, Marilyn Manson has invited art critics to join the fray by posting 21 watercolors online.

And as if trying to top the shock rocker at his own game, some say they actually like them.

"I have to admit, I liked them more than I thought I would," said Patrick Li, art editor for the art magazine Self Service, who detected the influence of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt in Manson's work.

"Some of them are naive in a way, but some of them are beautiful, quite brilliant," Li said. "They seem very detached, a little bit sorrowful. They definitely aren't about happiness."

"It's showable stuff," Max Henry, a columnist for and contributor to Art in America, said.

'Beginner's Work'

Some young art students at Parsons School of Design weren't as impressed as they perused printouts of the paintings while waiting to register for classes Thursday.

"Beginner's work," declared Isle Murdoch, who said she didn't know who Marilyn Manson was ("I don't have a television," she explained.)

Murdoch said Manson appeared to be influenced by contemporary Italian-born painter Francesco Clemente and Egon Schiele, the Austrian Expressionistic painter. "The paintings seem very personal," she said. "But structurally, they aren't very strong."

Music Still Manson's Focus

The shock rocker's artwork, which can be seen at his band's official Web site (, consists largely of portraits, often only of faces. Manson posted them to the site without any titles.

Eventually, Manson (born Brian Warner) plans to display them in a gallery, although no showing is scheduled, according to Manson spokesperson Tresa Redburn.

"He's putting all his energy into the album right now," Redburn said.

Manson is in Death Valley, Calif., recording In the Shadow of the Valley of Death, the follow-up to the band's 1998 studio album, Mechanical Animals. In a recent posting to the Web site, Manson, who has been criticized as a bad influence because of such songs as "Irresponsible Hate Anthem" (RealAudio excerpt), said the album, due by the end of the year, would be "the most violent, yet beautiful, creation we have accomplished."

Side Projects Nothing New

Manson is the latest in a long line of rock and pop musicians to delve into painting and other outside art projects. R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, for example, has published two books of photographs. Singer/songwriter Jewel published a poetry collection in 1998. Rock veteran John Mellencamp directed the 1992 movie "Falling From Grace."

"I saw Beck's artwork at his show last year," Parsons student Andrew Conti said, referring to collages the eclectic singer displayed at the Thread Waxing Space in New York. "I was pretty unimpressed."

Looking at Manson's works, Conti, who said he likes the artist's music, said, "As far as the portraits, the composition isn't very interesting."

"Although I kind of like this Superman one," he continued, pointing to a figure of a devilish-looking man in a Superman cape. "When he moves away from the portraits, the pictures get more interesting."

"I'd be interested in seeing him do something more abstract," another student, Liza Camh, said. "Because he has a good sense of color. But to be honest, there's nothing here I haven't seen before."

Manson's Demons

Henry said he also liked Manson's use of color, noting how the rocker uses bright, cheery colors to depict dark, foreboding images.

"I get the feeling these are therapeutic images," he said. "They remind me of the paintings drawn by psychiatric patients, when they're given art materials to use as therapy. There, you see a lot of demons, and in Manson's work I see in it a little bit of those demons, too. He's got a very dark take on life."

But, Henry added, "You don't know if it's Manson his stage persona drawing these pictures, or if it's really him. Or maybe they are the same person."

As for the value of the paintings, Henry said, "They might sell for thousands of dollars, but that's because people associate fame with a worth. People would come to see his show probably in droves, but his work would never be taken seriously in a fine-art context. The value is in their celebrity, but not in the work."

Li, who like Henry viewed the pictures online, said, "It's hard to tell if his technique, his brushwork is good, from looking at them on the Web. But I definitely think the pictures are showable."

"If you saw these painting without his name, you'd take a second look," he continued. "But I don't think his work will stand up to the kind of scrutiny that's going to happen if he shows them in a gallery."