Gene Simmons Says He’s ‘A Little Klutz’ When it Comes to Art
Gene Simmons is rarely at a loss for words. During our most recent conversation, he blasted the people who continue to refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine. "I'm not worried if an idiot gets COVID and dies," he told UCR. "I'm worried he take other people with him, who didn't have a choice."
The Kiss bassist/vocalist is heading back out on the road for the next leg of the group's ongoing End of the Road farewell trek. Set to resume on Aug. 18 in Mansfield, Mass., there will probably be "150 to 200 cities" added to the current slate of dates, which run through July of 2022 at present.
They'll eschew all meet and greets on the upcoming run, due to the ongoing pandemic. "Obviously, we’re giving up a pretty penny," he says. "Because fans pay a premium to come up and take photos and stuff. That’s gone.”
Simmons himself made good use of his pandemic-related time away from the road, putting a fresh flame to his love for creating art. It's a side the rocker has rarely shown, but he's going to change that with his first ever art exhibition in October at the Animazing Gallery in Las Vegas.
During an exclusive interview with UCR, Simmons shared some of the history behind his artistic life, commented on the current success of Wolfgang Van Halen and Mammoth WVH and told us why you can't satisfy Kiss fans.
So, you have this new art endeavor, which is really cool. It reveals to the public a longtime passion of yours, drawing and doodling, as you put it in the press materials. What were some of the early comic strips that inspired you as a budding artist? What was it about those strips and drawing style that moved you?
When I first came to America, I couldn’t speak English. I’m an only child to my mother. So I remember, everything was visual. I was just enamored by television that I hadn’t seen as a child. At about eight or nine years of age, I discovered television, people flying through the air and King Kong and all of that. So I immediately started drawing that stuff.
Comic books unleashed this whole other world. There were monster comics, science fiction comics and of course, the super heroes. I immediately started drawing that stuff and then started voraciously reading science fiction. In those days, there were illustrators, Virgil Finley and people like that, who really were, kind of, ink craftsmen. The comic book artists, they were the realists, who were just stunning. A guy named Russ Manning. Nobody touched Jack Kirby, but he wasn’t the best illustrator. He was simply my favorite, of course. You know, the best singers are opera singers, but they’re not my favorite, if you see what I mean.
It's the one that touches you personally.
It’s some weird connection. They can’t teach you that. You can learn how to sing properly and act properly and all of that kind of stuff. But you know, often, the untrained, make that connection. And so, Jack Kirby, certainly. Steve Ditko, who was a limited artist, actually, but through Spiderman, found his niche -- nobody equaled what he did with that character.
I also liked his science fiction work. Look, I never thought about this, [as] anything except a private, secret [hobby of] doodling. It was a way to keep my mind occupied. Because I sleep five hours a night. And not always. Sometimes, I stay awake at night and think about songs or things. But the same thing holds true for music. I’m self-taught, I never learned any music theory. I know nothing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m driving a truck right now and I can get myself to and from anywhere.
But if you lift the hood and start talking to me about the engine, it’s not in my DNA. I don’t care. I just want to do it. Thank God they invented the automatic foot pedal. Because my DNA just wouldn’t have the patience for a stick shift.
I get that.
Push this way for first gear, God, get the fuck out of here. Just go and stop. You want to simplify your life. In the days when I used to live with and date Cher and Diana Ross, just a different lifestyle, in New York City, it was during the Studio 54 days. Both women were just amazing extraordinary, classy ladies.
Oh, for sure.
They introduced me to a world I not only wasn’t aware of, but really, was never really interested in. When I went into Studio 54, you meet [Rudolf] Nureyev, you know, the legendary ballet actor, a young Al Pacino, on and on and on. Cher and I go to Halston’s house, who at the time, was the preeminent designer of female clothing. I mean, he was it.
At the house, everybody was there. Liza [Minnelli], Nureyev -- and Andy Warhol. I somehow got invited to [Warhol’s] loft and I actually watched him create his art. It bears noting, he wasn’t the only one. He was more like a movie director, saying, I want more art there and less here, less there. Likewise, he was untrained and just did what he thought was cool. I never thought about any of that, like, “Oh yeah, this is a harbinger of things to come.” I just had this secret passion.
When the pandemic hit, sadly, it affected the world in a very bad way. But it also gave us a chance to reassess friends, family, kids. You know, the important things. And, you had a lot of time on your hands.
You did stuff that you didn’t have time to do. I was quarantined up in Canada and the fine folks there, the lawmakers, were kind enough to say, “Yeah, you can be in this factory area as long as you’re not around other people.” I said, “You know what? You kids go out and get me canvases and paints and everything, I’m going to try painting for the first time.
Untrained, not knowing what I’m doing, like a kid. You know, throw a little baby with lots of paint, he’s going to stick his hands in it and just start creating. I’m like that, like a little klutz. So, some of my pieces are more pop art realistic. Some are impressionistic. Like Jackson Pollock kind of stuff. Although I did take quite a bit of art lessons in school, they were more art appreciation. They didn’t teach you method, brush strokes, any of that stuff.
Socially, I met a guy named Nick Leone, who owns [the] Animazing art gallery in Las Vegas. He’s going, “Wow, this is really special stuff, who is this?” I go, “You really think it’s good?” He goes, “Oh yeah, who is this artist?” I said, “It’s me.” He goes, “You’re the artist? How long have you been painting?” I said, “I never have.” He said, “You’re out of your mind. What do you mean, you never have?”
He pointed to that and said, “How big is this piece?” I said, “It’s eight feet by four feet.” He said, “Okay, we’re having a Gene Simmons art show.” So I created Gene Simmons Artworks as a corporate logo and stuff. I own the trademark. October 14-15-16 at Animazing at the Venetian Hotel, there’s going to be my first art show, if you can believe that.
The pandemic also gave you time to go back and review the years of artwork that you had done. What was the piece that was most surprising for you to discover?
When I was 14 or 15, I drew the cover of a fanzine. Most people don’t know what that is, called Fantasy News. You know, they only had a circulation of a few hundred people, because they’re a homemade publication about science fiction and fantasy. All of the letters, were unanimously saying, “Who is this artist? It’s the most amazing thing.”
At that point, I was [Gene] Klein, before Simmons. I thought, “You really think it’s good, really?” Like, you’re not aware of it. And then, I didn’t think much of it. Went back to chasing girls, forming a band, you know, just trying to survive those crazy young, dumb and full of cum years. And don’t think I don’t know that you went through the same thing.
From an artwork standpoint with the Kiss album covers, is there one that you were really fascinated with as a fellow artist and creators, as far as the concept?
You’re giving me too much credit. Never thought about it like that. I’m just some lucky putz off the streets of New York, who just kind of fooled around with life and succeeded. There are people who spend their entire lives learning how to do stuff and never climb the ladders of success.
There are other people, like an artist who taped a banana against the wall and sold it for a hundred thousand dollars. Then somebody walked by and saw a banana taped to the wall, untaped it, ate the banana and taped the peel back on. That was sold too. So what’s the difference between art and graffiti artists?
Yeah, there’s an art show and somebody took a toilet and just put it in the middle of the floor and they said, “That’s my art.” What are you going to say? How do you define it? You can’t. So you’re giving me far too much credit. I’m just a guy who is not afraid of the word “No.” You know, we get back up on stage, any stagecraft I had, were all pieces of the puzzle that I saw of all of the greats that went before me. I guess that’s the only school I went to. The school of hard knocks. You watch what works in life and if it appeals to you, it becomes part of your DNA.
You’re in a band with somebody who also has a passion for art. Paul Stanley, of course. What sort of discussions have you had about art and that whole world over the years?
I love his stuff. But he took the time to figure out paint strokes and stuff and materials and all of that. Of course, I told him, “Look, I never thought about this kind of stuff, I’m just going to fool around and see what happens.” Like everything we do in the band, we’re very supportive. It’s like, hey, try it! The most important thing is, hey, maybe you like it.
Because some people try stuff and they don’t like it. At the end of the day, life is short, do what floats your boat. By the way, we’re lucky. Almost everybody on Earth has to go work at jobs they don’t like, just to get the money at the end of the week. You, me, Paul, these kind of people, get to do stuff we like -- and we get paid for it. What’s wrong with that? Some of these pieces, the eight foot wide, four foot high pieces, are selling for $250 thousand bucks.
Are there pieces that are more in line of being more affordable for your average consumer?
Yeah, there are smaller pieces. But they’re all original. For the record, nobody else touched my canvas. Nobody threw paint on it. Nobody threw a finger on it. Nobody held a paint brush. So if you like it, it’s all me. If you don’t like it, blame me.
Very good. The best thing that Wolfgang can do -- and he’s very talented, in my estimation -- is tip the hat at Dad, but you know, follow your own journey. He’s going to come up with other stuff that’s all 100% Wolfgang. I wish him well. He’s starting off well opening for Guns [N' Roses]. That’s great.
For you, Gene Simmons, what’s the most ridiculous Kiss story you’ve ever heard?
My tongue was grafted on from a cow’s tongue. It wasn’t. It was grafted on from a fucking T-Rex, bitch.
Fantastic. Are you working on any sort of solo music?
I always write. I put out the largest box set of all time about two years ago, The Vault, which had 167 tracks, unreleased. With the Van Halen brothers on a few songs and Joe Perry and other stuff. Yeah, I’ve got tons of material.
Do you have an eye towards releasing anything?
Not in the near future. I think it’s a travesty. What’s happened for young bands, downloading and file sharing, it’s robbery. There’s just no [other] way to say that. New bands, sadly, it breaks my heart, have no way to make a living.
So our editor had a two part question wondering why he can't purchase a lighted Kiss sign but more importantly, why did Kiss stop using the real lighted sign for Kiss concerts?
You know, you can’t win. If you use the lighted Kiss sign, they go, “How come you don’t have a bigger stage show.” Okay, then you put up big screens and big this and big that, they say, “Okay, where’s the Kiss sign.” You can’t win. You put up the big Kiss sign, you can’t do rearview screens.
You know, Christ gets crucified on a crucifix. He actually wasn’t, it’s just a different thing. So somebody’s going to say, “Why that? You’re Jewish? Why wasn’t it the Star of David? Why this, why that?” There’s always why.
Haunted Rock Venues: The Stories of 21 Creepy Clubs and Arenas