“Most rock guys make art when they’re not on tour”: Alice Cooper on Warhol’s collection, her collaboration with Dalí and her own budding painting practice

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Rumor has it that Andy Warhol first came up with the idea of ​​depicting electric chairs as part of his iconic “Death and disaster ” series after seeing a rock show where Alice Cooper performed stunts on stage with an electric propeller chair. In the 1970s, when the two artists were at the peak of their careers, they became passing friends in the golden corners of New York’s nightlife hotspots, like Max’s Kansas City, where they mingled and performing. the party, with the rest of the Factory entourage. .

Given the Pop art master’s fascination with death and plasticity, the urban legend might well be true – and the interest was mutual. In 1971, Cooper said, a model ex-girlfriend bought him one of Warhol’s “Electric Chair” prints, which the artist first made in 1963 by appropriating a Press image of the device used to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage.

Last weekend, just after a fall tour of 26 locations, Cooper put on the screen printing, Small Electric Chair (Red) (1964-65), auctioned off, where it was to fetch $ 2.5-4.5 million at the Larsen Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona (the state Cooper has lived in for decades).

The work was authenticated by Warhol expert Richard Polsky, but rumors of its authenticity persisted and the print ultimately failed to sell. (Polsky website name it “Small electric chair ” series among the most forged by the artist, with its “Flower” paintings and “Marilyne “ prints.) Plans of Cooper offer the work as a private sale in the future.

We caught up with Cooper while touring Mississippi to discuss Warhol, how surrealism inspired his legendary stage number, and his own burgeoning painting practice.

Alice Cooper playing with an electric chair.

What was your first reaction to the “Electric chair” series? Did you need to be convinced by the idea of ​​buying an edition or did you fall in love with it?

By the 1970s, the group were known to use all kinds of props on stage, like guillotines, snakes, and, in fact, electric chairs. My girlfriend at the time, Cindy Lang, thought Warhol’s electric chair silkscreen would make a perfect birthday present and bought it for $ 2,200. She worked with Maintenance magazine and was somewhat involved in the Factory circuit, and I think she lent the money. I loved it and we hung it in our living room in Los Angeles.

I heard it was the late actor Dennis Hopper who first told you how many Warhols are going for these days?

Dennis was a good friend and a golf partner. My daughter and I were sitting with him at the Kentucky Derby in 2008 or 2009. He had just sold one of his Warhol for $ 7 million. Three times later, I remembered I had one too! I called my mom, who was staying with us in Arizona at the time, to check our garage – and it was there, after sitting coiled in a tube for 30 years. Arizona summers see 150 degrees, so everything is always air conditioned – luckily the garage is too.

Were you involved in the art world at the time? It seems that the musical and artistic scenes were more incestuous in the 1970s and 1980s.

When Cindy bought the screenprint, I knew Warhol and had partied with his team a few times. He was outspoken about everything, including that anything could be art. It was a unique idea, in your face. Rock musicians and artists all frequented the same circles and places, such as Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54. Avant-garde has always been found, whether in music or art. I have an art major and have always considered my show and my character to be an artistic extension of my music. It was around the time that I collaborated with Salvador Dalí for his hologram, First cylindrical chromo-hologram portrait of Alice Cooper’s brain (1973).

Chris Loomis / © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by the Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Was the Warhol the first piece of art you collected?

I already had a few paintings by Larry Rivers, I also knew him in the same circle. Then I started collecting a lot of artists from Arizona, where I live. I am a fan of the artist Guzwa. I have eight of her paintings of dated Route 66 motels with neon signs from the 1950s. Another local artist I collect is Anne Coe, who works on Americana – lizards or rockets – all with a sense of l ‘humor.

I have a feeling you might like Warhol’s “Car Crash” prints too.

It’s true, because it’s about destruction [laughs]. Experts who inspected my red electric chair agreed that it was rare to have the word “silence” printed in a visible and legible way. In other colors, the word is apparently weak.

What was the difference between the art scene then and that of today?

I feel like every musician or actor is an artist today – I just heard that Gene Simmons makes art. There are eight paintings that I did there. I gave them all away, so I couldn’t tell you who they belong to now. When I started the band with my bassist Dennis Dunaway in the 1960s, we had both just studied art and our intention was to do something similar to surrealists on stage.

Tell us about your own studio practice. Did it start and evolve alongside the music?

I started out by doing intricate pen and ink drawings, which took a lot of time. Later I got into acrylics, it’s easier to work with than oil paint, but the impact of oil is beyond other paints. I realized that most rockers make art when they’re not touring. Since we hadn’t been able to shoot since last March, I had to do something with the desire and I started painting again. I do outline drawings, which is new territory; some of them are abstract landscapes. However, there is always a bit of dark humor. For example, a drawing of a cute rabbit in a guillotine. Art needs humor.

You seem more engaged than ever in painting. Are you going to continue, and maybe exhibit with an Arizona gallery?

I have done about 20 paintings so far and will definitely continue. Maybe about eight of them are worth showing, so it takes me about a year for a show. What fascinates me about painting is that I am not accountable to anyone; there are no borders and they speak for themselves. The trick is knowing where to stop. I’m a fan of the phrase “If everything screams, then nothing screams”. I liken painting to writing songs – either way you start not knowing where the path will take you and it never ends the way you envision it. The paintings are getting bigger and bigger, so yes. I turned one of the big rooms in the house into a studio, even the recording room is smaller.

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