You probably know his “Starchild” character, with white face makeup and a black star over his right eye, and the Spandex, leather and chains he wears onstage with platform shoes. But when he’s not smashing guitars and telling you to “lose your mind in Detroit Rock City,” KISS frontman Paul Stanley is a prolific artist.
“About 18 years ago I was going through some turmoil in my life, as we all do, and a very good friend of mine said, ‘You should paint,’ and I kind of thought, ‘Well, I’m tired of throwing stuff at the walls,’” Stanley said. “So I went out and bought paint and canvases and brushes.”
Within a few years, he was asked to show work at a gallery, and in the years that followed his work has been praised by art critics, become highly sought-after by collectors and been commissioned by entities worldwide. His portraits, abstract paintings, mixed-media creations and hand-painted acrylic sculptures have generated sales in the millions.
It should be no surprise that the rocker took to art so well. Stanley hand-drew the ubiquitous KISS logo and designed the band’s album covers, concert stages and outfits over the years.
If KISS is a celebration of rock ’n’ roll, Stanley’s art is a celebration of life.
“The fact that it resonates with so many people, I think, shows an honesty and a joy in what I do,” he said. “I use a lot of color, and to me, color is really an affirmation of life. To me, every day is a miracle and I’m thrilled to be able to, in my own way, document it.”
It’s quite a body of work for someone who started painting as a way of “purging,” as he put it.
“I just found myself going deeper and deeper and I certainly never painted with any plans or aspirations to show my art. It was personal and purely for me,” Stanley said. “I couldn’t imagine having enough art to fill a gallery, and now I don’t know that there’s a gallery that’s big enough.”
Represented by the Wentworth Gallery, Stanley has had shows this year at galleries in New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia and Virginia. His artwork is also available to view online at paulstanley.com/artwork.
Born Stanley Eisen in New York City, Paul Stanley considers his Jewish heritage foundational to the person he is today.
“My mom was born in Berlin and lived through just a horrific and heinous time,” Stanley said. His father was a first-generation Polish immigrant.
“I have a very strong feeling of obligation to make sure that my children understand Judaism and the Holocaust. I grew up with adults around me with numbers on their arms. That was part of my life. So my sense of duty is to instill in my children my heritage.”
Stanley said he finds Judaism very pure.
“I think that at its core, Judaism is, I think [Hillel] said, it’s really treating people the way you would want to be treated and the rest of it is just exposition on that,” he said. “That resonates beautifully.”
Most recently, Stanley attended a Reconstructionist synagogue.
“I believe very much that a religion — although the basic tenets should stay — needs to evolve over time to keep the practicality about it.”
Shared Jewish heritage fostered camaraderie between Stanley and KISS bassist Gene Simmons.
“What we’ve seen is that Jews are resilient,” Stanley said. “So I think that Gene and I always shared a work ethic and a core value of what’s right and wrong and a sense that it’s all about hard work and there’s no shortcuts.”
To that end, Stanley paints about five hours a day when he’s not on the road. And while touring can be grueling, the Starchild said the same feelings he exhibits in his art are what keep him engaged in the band he’s fronted for more than 40 years.
“It’s joy and gratitude for what I’ve been given and for how I am embraced and accepted,” he said. “And the fact that I get a chance to get out and celebrate life and celebrate self-empowerment. Look, touring is not fun, but the two hours onstage is the closest thing to rarified air. It doesn’t get any better than that.” JN