An interview with Sir Macca
VM As you know Paul, this series of interviews explores the relationship between fine art and popular music, specifically the animosity and ridicule directed towards the popstar turned artist. This attitude is largely absent when the roles are reversed and the artist takes on the mantle of popstar or rock musician. Do you think this dichotomy is the result of the latter's music being informed by his/her activities as an artist whereas the popstar invariably seperates these activities? Also, while being interviewed by Parkinson recently, you kept scratching away imaginary flecks of white crust from the corners of your mouth. Why?
McCartney: I think it was an explosion. Once I got free of my own stupidity, it was just like a volcano erupting. It was the remark Bill de Kooning made that seemed to indicate he had such a free take on painting. I had gotten the mistaken idea that unless I got the exact subject and the exact thought behind it, I shouldn't start. Bill's idea was quite the opposite. He would often start by writing the name of one of his friends on a canvas and painting over it and starting from there. That became more interesting to me than becoming broody. Everything I'd ever wanted to try came out.
VM Did you start painting gradually, choosing a colour and then a brush and maybe a shape or did you just do it without questioning why? What interests me is whether you stopped to think 'why make art in this way' or if you thought 'if I'm going to make art I'd better phone up and order a shit load of paint and canvas 'cos that's what they use'? Did Linda have plenty of jam-jars for your brushes or were they full of home made chutney?
McCartney: I think people worry about content. Somebody will wait until they have the exactly right idea. I have friends who are like that. It was getting in the way for me, the idea that if I haven't got any ideas, I can't start. Bill said, 'Why don't you just go and start, and stop asking stupid questions?' He didn't become so much a mentor to me as it was his attitude and one little chance remark that inspired me.
A painting by someone else
VM Suppose that at the start of life we have a barrel of ideas, a sort of depository that we take ideas from, play with and put back. Leaving aside those who open the barrel and find the contents evaporated, or those for whom the barrel is mis-labelled or misplaced, would you agree that as we get older we are less receptive to new ideas and , as we take out more than we put in, the barrel begins to empty; if so would you say that you are now scraping the barrel? Do you need to be in a certain mood to paint? You keep mentioning 'Bill' when everyone knows him as Willem. Are you doing a 'my mate the artist' number?
McCartney: I need to just have an urge to paint. I say, 'I'd love to paint a picture and I've got time.' Often it's just having a bit of time to do it. It's such a nice relief from the pressure of touring. On the world tours I did in the '90s, I painted quite a lot. I surprised people by not taking my days off. In my mind, I was taking the day off. I was painting.
VM Sat in the traffic on my way here I momentarily confused the steam from my McMuffin with the exhaust from the bus in front. What is the last abstract thought you had and how will you apply it to your work? What mood do you then get into while you're painting and why have you spent the time since John's death trying to convince the world that everything was your idea?
McCartney: If I'm lucky, I go through a door into the painting. I lose myself in the painting. I like that. My thing is about following the accidental, more than trying to paint an accurate bowl of apples. I enjoy most following the paint. It leads me somewhere else. I think I enjoy just letting the magic unfold and letting the spirit of the paint tell me where we're going. It's similar to music. You get a couple or words or notes or chords that excite you and you just follow them and add a bit more and see where it takes you.
VM Mmmmm. A bit like 'The Frog Chorus' . Although I certainly don't contribute to the gypsy-romantic notion of making art, and I'm including all forms here,it can be a lonely and frustrating business and little of any worth comes without a struggle. Has this been your experience, especially in relation to songs such as 'Obladi-Oblida', 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' or even 'Mull Of Kintyre'? You once said that Wings were a better band than The Beatles. Did it ever occur to you that maybe John's angst gave him the edge over you - and what is your motivation to paint?
McCartney: People who paint, including myself, get to a point where a bit of angst comes in. If you're doing it for a living, it's worth it to suffer those slings and arrows. If I was going to paint for my own fun, that was one thing I had to avoid. I invented these characters. One of them is Luigi. If I get to a point in a painting where I'm getting stuck, I imagine Luigi has a restaurant with a little alcove. He's a good friend of mine. He's always saying, 'Paint a picture for the alcove.' When things get tough, I say, 'This is for Luigi. He'll like this.' I don't fret it. Lo and behold, five minutes later, I'm at a new point in the painting and I got through the bad patch. Or, if I'm getting a bit stuck, I become Mr Blendini. He enjoys blending colours. He can spend hours doing that. I've got Luigi and Blendini. Everyone needs friends like that. Luigi accepts everything I do. He loves it.
VM Maybe Willem has a Mr Blendini. He loves it, She loves you, All you need is love, Yeah Yeah you're a lovely man, Paul.
McCartney I think you had better leave now you sarky git
VM Who was it said 'all you need to succeed is sincerity, and if you can fake that you've got it made'? Bye Paul.And you can keep your self-grandising bullshit and false modesty for Parky.
McCartney Fuck off Vic