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The paintings of Ian McLagan and Jesse Sublett

Austin music icons branch into visual art

Joe Gross
'Jerry Lee' by Ian McLagan

The first time Ian McLagan got a migraine headache, he thought he might be dying.

'I was talking to someone and suddenly I couldn't see the one side of her face,' the former Faces keyboard player, current leader of the Bump Band and longtime Central Texan said. ‘It had disappeared in this incredibly intense, bright light show. Then I went a little numb, and thought, "Oh, (expletive) me. I'm having a stroke." '

Turned out that McLagan wasn't shuffling off the mortal coil, but it sure felt like it. Ask any migraine sufferer and they'll tell you that a strong one can make you pray for the sweet relief of death.

So McLagan did what artists do: He made art about it. ‘Paint From Pain — Migraine Paintings by Ian McLagan' opens Friday at the Yard Dog Gallery. This is his first public show.

He's no stranger to painting. Like many British rockers, McLagan attended art school, but not before some dodgy years in high school.

‘I played hooky so much that when I went back to school they dropped me a year,' McLagan said. It became a matter of finding out what he liked to do. ‘My art teacher helped me get into art school. Of course I joined a band.'

In 2001, he started getting migraines. ‘I noticed there were these very strong auras of light when they would come on,' McLagan said, "so I decided to start to draw them.'

He started to keep pens and pads everywhere around the house for when he was struck by what he describes as ‘five or 10 minute movies, brighter than anything on a sunny day.' For McLagan, the auras start very small, getting more angular. They they start to soften and then the migraine happens.

‘It was impossible at first to get the light,' McLagan said. ‘It's hard to capture in color; paints are never bright enough, so I have to make the backgrounds as dark as possible for contrast. But it gives me some satisfaction; I feel like I'm getting something out of it. Of course, the joke is that concentrating on the light aggravates it such that I can't relax and let the thing go away.' Ah well.

He does want to clear up one thing. ‘These are certainly not abstracts,' McLagan said. ‘Every one of them is a different challenge. It's like painting a portrait.'

McLagan is of course best known as a musician. ‘I do think it's all connected,' McLagan says. ‘Before you get an idea for a song you start with nothing, and it's the same as a blank canvas. But for me, the great thing about painting is you can finish it in a day and that's it.'

Of course, many visual artists work over a painting for decades, but not McLagan: "On songs, I'm constantly trimming, constantly revising. When I sign a painting, that's it."

Jesse Sublett is another musician who has found creative purchase in visual arts. Yard Dog Gallery is hosting ‘Colorful Women,' an exhibit of his drawings. (Interestingly, both he and McLagan are published authors, Sublett with a series of crime novels and the harrowing memoir ‘Never the Same Again,' McLagan with ‘All the Rage,' his memoir about his time in the Small Faces, the Faces and beyond. Also like McLagan, this is Sublett's first public show.)

‘I've been drawing since I was a kid,' Sublett said. ‘A scribbler and doodler all the time. About five years ago, I decided to try to get better.'

His sketches are usually female nudes, bodies made up of curlicues in front of bright, multihued backgrounds, usually in art pens, Sharpies, highlighters and sometimes acrylic paint. As the drawings sometimes began over old notebook pages, there's text deep in the background of many drawings, adding a layer of meaning, whether Sublett intends it or not.

At first he didn't show them, kept them in a box. ‘Then I thought, "Man, you're gonna be like one of those outsider artists," ' Sublett said. ‘ "You're going to die and they‘re gonna find all these drawings." '

Sublett says he finally got over that urge after seeing an art show by Jon Dee Graham, his former bandmate in Austin punk rock pioneers Skunks. (A little sibling rivalry can go a long way.)

‘I have no pretensions of grandeur, but people seem to dig it,' Sublett says. ‘People do seem to get my stuff, but occasionally I do get, "Why all the boobs?" I just love women. Not in a womanizing way, but I'm womankind's biggest fan. I love the form. I'm sure I'll move on at some point.' (Note: It is impossible to tell if he is kidding.)

Like McLagan, he sees creative connections between music and drawing. ‘When you're playing music, you don't have to think. You get into that blank space grooving along,' Sublett said. ‘I find it the same when I'm working on my pictures. When I just get into the line, it reminds me of just getting into a musical groove. You keep going and you don't want to stop. You feel like you can't do any wrong and something else is taking over and you want with that.

‘Then again,' Sublett adds, "it might all be (expletive)."; 912-5925

Jesse Sublett's Colorful Women

Ian McLagan: Paint From Pain

When: Sublett's on display now; McLagan opening reception at 7 p.m. Friday. Regular gallery hours:11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where:Yard Dog Gallery, 1510 S. Congress Ave.