Paul Stanley says he’s never played Guitar Hero, so he doesn’t know if it’s harder to perform “Strutter” on a plastic guitar. And, really, why would he? He’s busy doing things. Like deafening thousands of people at once while performing with Kiss. Or, listening to my inane questions. Or, working at his new passion—wait for it—painting.
“You can’t get anywhere until you’re ready to find it,” he says on the phone, explaining how he took up painting several years ago during a difficult divorce. “I did it purely as a cathartic release, and I did it from the get-go with the ground rules that I was going to concentrate more on trying to depict emotions than trying to depict any image of reality.”
The only Kiss content is four portraits of the band’s members in costume. “A tip-of-the-hat to the fans,” Stanley calls it, but one that’s so out of place precisely because of how abstract the other works are. “I have to tell, you it’s pretty gratifying to know that they’re the least popular pieces in the gallery,” he says. “People aren’t buying Kiss, they’re buying art.”
That art ranges from serene to immediate, while touching on themes Kiss never would. You wouldn’t know Stanley spends some nights in 9-inch heels, cranking out the riff to “Deuce.” It’s important to him that his art—both its content and its success—not be seen as some by-product of Kiss. “At the end of the day, if you know you’re buying pieces of art because I sing ‘Love Gun,’ you’re probably better off spending the money elsewhere.”
But, if it exists, the link to Kiss may not be causal. The paintings, some of which seem to reflect influences like Rothko and Miró, inspire a range of emotional responses, and Stanley sees legitimacy in nearly every reaction. It’s a creative open-mindedness that perhaps developed alongside his relationship to Kiss’ fans. “I’m sometimes stunned by what some people read into some of my music, but that doesn’t negate the truth in what they’re saying,” he says. “In the same way as with a piece of art or anything else that’s subjective, it’s ultimately more important what you get out of it than what I set out to do.”
While it’s strange to hear Paul Stanley talk about the affirmation of “real” art collectors, especially since Kiss made a career out of being reviled by critics and worshipped by fans, they’re not the only ones he cares about. “If my appearance brings in people who have never been into a gallery, I’ve done a double service,” he says. “I think that many people don’t get a chance to experience or enjoy any of the arts, because the critic’s job, unfortunately, seems to be to intimidate a potential viewer by telling them that their opinion isn’t valid unless it’s educated. That really sells a lot of people short.” And, it might be that kind of classic rock populism that finally gives him away.