The Art of Being Ringo
The iconic Starr of the Beatles exhibits his art at the Fox and the Ann Jackson Gallery
He's internationally known as the beat of the Beatles, but Ringo Starr is an accomplished visual artist as well. As he returns to Georgia tonight for a performance with his All-Starr Band at the Fox, the Ann Jackson Gallery continues an exhibition of the beloved musician's art. Bold patterns, expressive faces and vibrant colors define the exhibition and discriminating collectors can purchase limited edition prints - individually hand-signed by Starr.
It's a chance to own a piece of music history and one of the only ways to obtain an authentic autograph from the iconic performer. Several years ago Starr announced he would no longer sign autographs for fans, making the official pieces even more collectible.
Beginning with rudimentary files of computer art in the '90s as a new way to pass time on tour, Starr's art has expanded into an officially published series at www.RingoStarrArt.com with all proceeds going directly to the Lotus Foundation. The California-based non-profit organization headed by Starr and wife Barbara Bach supports charitable projects and programs that battle substance abuse, cancer, wildlife injustice and many other worthwhile causes.
The Atlanta stop of the tour is especially unique for music fans because it combines the live show, the art exhibit and the extremely rare opportunity to actually meet Starr before the performance. Customers who purchase an exclusive, extremely limited print via the gallery will meet the Beatle before tonight's show, have a brief chat and take a photograph with him.
INsite recently spoke with Ringo's official art publisher, Neal Glaser of Celebrity Art by phone from his office in Philadelphia.
You were in town last year for the Beatles and Dylan art show - also at the Jackson Gallery, right?
Yes! We had a great time, it was very successful and it's a wonderful gallery. So we're back!
They have an incredible enthusiasm for all types of art and it's a great location. Plus that downtown area looks like a movie set of an ideal town.
That's true. It's a nice area, very pretty; it's like it's from a different era. It's a good stage and they get a really good crowd.
How did your association with gallery lead to the Ringo exhibit?
Well we have a very good relationship with them and Ringo's going to be performing at the Fox Theater, so it all just seemed to fit. I'd be coming through town anyway and what a great venue to exhibit Ringo's artwork. We all have a passion for art and music and Ringo so it makes it so much easier.
Tell us a bit about your connection to iconic musician.
I'm Ringo's art publisher and I've worked with him for almost 20 years. He does these paintings and sculptures and it's all for charity and for fun. It's exciting for me to be able to present it to the world.
And your company, Celebrity Art, is exactly that - art created by celebrities. How did you first become involved with publishing the works of already-famous artists?
It's like the John Lennon quote, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," I was in a different business in the early '80s, but I'd always loved art and collected it. I was lucky enough to live in a community in Connecticut with a lot of artists. One thing turns into another and the next thing you know, you're in the art business! It's been nearly 30 years now and it's been great.
There's a lingering fascination with celebrity art.
Absolutely and there's a reason for that. These people are multi-talented. When you're artistic, you usually want to express that in many different ways. Actors sing and singers act and painters can play musical instruments, so it's a natural connection. It just crosses over.
John Lennon is great example.
Oh, John was great. I'm a fan of all the Beatles' artwork and he used such simple lines to really express himself. It really came across. Just a few lines and you knew what he was trying to relay to the observer.
He had an instantly recognizable style.
Yes and that's so hard to do. That's one of the hardest things an artist has to do is have an original style.
You started the company on the cusp of interest in celebrity culture.
Yes, I previously worked with the Jimi Hendrix estate, Tony Bennett, Gary Burghoff from M*A*S*H and some of Johnny Cash's art as well. I saw the trend of the way the world was going and the celebrity trend was becoming bigger than ever even then. Now of course today there's TMZ and all these shows and everybody is obsessed with it. Fortunately, in the '80s I was able to know some of the artists and really like what they were doing. It was all like bricks in a building, it just all fit together.
I've heard that you approached Ringo several times about presenting his art. He was a bit reluctant at first, correct?
Yes and of course I'm a fan, I grew up in that ear and saw them on Ed Sullivan. The typical story. I knew Ringo was a painter and I had a chance to meet with him about art. I asked him if he wanted to publish his artwork. He kinda gave me a 'No I just don't want to do that.' About a year or so later, I met him again and we had a little chat. He appreciates art and we were talking about it. I said, 'Come on, do you want to do something with the art?' Again he said no and I figured that was the end of it.
Obviously he finally changed his mind.
Well, months later I was at home and all of a sudden the phone rings. I pick it up, 'Hello?' The voice goes, 'Hullo Neal, it's Ringo.' Of course, I say, 'Who is this really?' He goes, 'It's [blankin'] Ringo.' Now the voice starts to register in my head. I'm going, 'Uh-oh!'
It must be a surreal moment to get an out of the blue call from Ringo.
Yes! I'd met him a few times and we'd chatted, but come on, it was my home phone and he'd found my number. I go, 'Oh Ringo!'
Yeah, THAT Ringo.
(Laughs) Yeah and he goes, 'Well that's better.' I said, 'Geez, I'm sorry, I don't expect you to call me at home.' He said, 'Well you've been asking about my art for a few years. I finally call you and you give me this?' But we had a nice little chat.
That was a big step.
Yes, he said, 'Well let's get together.' I said fine. He said, 'How about tomorrow at 11 am?' As we were saying goodbye he said, 'Wait a minute, where are you?' I said Philadelphia. He said, 'I'm in L.A., I can't see you tomorrow!' He gave me another day. But in my mind, I was going to airport and hopping on the first plane regardless. If Ringo says 'Come see me tomorrow,' you're there.
Was the original idea for the published art to benefit charity?
Right. He's been an artist since the Beatles so it was always about the art and the charity, 100 percent. Not one penny goes to him. It all goes to charity. I know other performers and sometimes some of the proceeds go to charity, but with Ringo, it's 100 percent.
That's the way it should be.
Well that's Ringo. He says I don't want to promote it all the time, I don't want the accolades, I just want to do some good and that's all.
All of the art proceeds go directly to the Lotus Foundation, which is impressive because it doesn't have his name on it. I always get suspicious of charities that prominently bill the artists name.
Me too! Because what's their motive? There's a saying, right, 'If you give something anonymously, that's a real charity.'
When you give and make a big show of it, that's nothing but publicity.
Exactly. Ringo and Barbara have this charity, they have no office, no literature, they just give 100 percent to charities they support. He'll mention it in interviews sometimes, but he never really 'bangs his drum' about it.
The list of charities the Lotus Foundation supports is quite impressive.
It's definitely a lot of giving. Their mission statement has changed a little but it was originally for drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, then for battered women and cancer research. Lately he's given to Water Aid for places that don't have water. It's just whatever hits home with them the most. It's not always the typical charities people support; if it hits them they're gonna help.
Tell us about the local show. The exhibit features a wide selection of styles.
Yeah, since 2004, since we really started putting them out, he has evolved every year. You can follow the transition. And you can see it on his website, www.ringostarrart.com. You can see all the changes. We'll have samples from past years in the show but just as exciting, he has five new pieces coming out as the new tour starts. So it's a chance to see his 2017 art and it's really different.
His earliest stuff was very raw and basic and now a decade later it's really evolved.
When he first came out with it, he was doing what he called his "heads." All people and their expressions and faces. It was the phase he was going through. That's what he was doing when we started publishing his art. Then he evolved into stars, a whole series of peace symbols and stencils where he cuts out his face and spray paints it. He's also done wooden sculptures which he paints and then we take a very high resolution photograph of it and it's released as a print. He runs the whole gamut of expressions in the visual arts.
It's art from a living legend of music.
You know, people come to the show and they smile and enjoy it. They feel a connection and isn't that what art is all about?
That deep fan-to-artist connection, especially with Ringo, was probably felt greater in America than anywhere else in the world.
You know when the Beatles came to America his fan mail outnumbered the other three combined. He was really a star. In the Beatle movies, he was the star. In the Beatles, of course Lennon and McCartney wrote most of the songs but you needed Ringo to make it the Beatles that everyone knows and loves. His vibe and his personality made it great. He meshed perfectly and he was an unbelievable drummer. The music is undeniable of course, but he has that "thing."
He's a major personification of pop culture star power.
And he's like that in person. He's charming, funny and nice. People ask me a lot, 'What's he like?' The Beatles were just grounded. There's something special about Liverpool, I guess.
The meet and greet experience is pretty exciting.
We don't do this often, this is a rare thing.
Atlanta is the only city for this opportunity?
This is it. We're doing it in one spot for the Jackson Gallery and for the fans in the Atlanta area
It involves an exceptionally limited piece of art as well.
Most of the editions are 30 worldwide but this is an edition of only four signed pieces, signed the night of the show. If you come out and purchase one of those, you get the chance to come back and get a photo with Ringo and say hello.
Is this called a VIP package or some sort of marketing ploy?
Oh no, there's no swag, it's just a moment with Ringo.
That's a major bucket list item for so many people.
Yes! And when you bid on these charity buzz-type auctions, a meet and greet with Ringo goes for 15 to 20 thousand dollars. This is a chance to get a very unique artwork of only four worldwide and you also get a photo with Ringo. How great is that?
Now let's talk dollars here. There's a price range involved, obviously.
Right, the price range of Ringo-signed items is anywhere for about $600 up to about $2000 on average. All hand-signed. For the special meet and greet piece, the price is $6000. That's not even a lot in my mind, but we'll let the fans decide. But to get a piece that is that limited and to meet Ringo, that's a dream come true for so many people.
The Art of Ringo Starr runs through today at the Ann Jackson Gallery in Roswell. Visit annjacksongallery.com and RingoStarrArt.com for more information. Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band play the Fox Theater tonight at 8 p.m.