Punk Rock & Paintbrushes: The Insides of Artists Written By Outsiders (Book Review)

Punk is being exactly who you truly are—and sometimes it’s messy. So it’s no surprise that several canvases gave their lives when the DIY spirit of Punk Rock and creative catharsis of art collided to author a one-of-a-kind new coffee table book entitled Punk Rock & Paintbrushes: The Insides of Artists Written By Outsiders. Fans can set their fingertips on a copy beginning Thursday, April 15, 2021, thanks to Romantic Rock and PunkRockArt.com.

Punk Rock & Paintbrushes is a unique arts management company and art show producer that bridges the gap between art and music. Created by Emily Treasure Nielsen as a platform for artists to showcase their creativity and wildness at gallery exhibits and music festivals, the company’s roots go all the way back to 2007. A fighter, Nielsen asked friend Tim McIlrath (of Rise Against) to paint a piece of art with the lyrics to the Rise Against song “Survive” for her after overcoming a battle with cancer. Years later, the painting has traveled around the world with Nielsen, and serves as an everyday reminder that “How we survive is what makes us who we are.

Her collective, who share a mutual love for music and art, operates as a family of misfit toys, if you will. Now bringing their exhibitions straight to your fingertips, they deliver the coffee table book Punk Rock & Paintbrushes: The Insides of Artists Written By Outsiders. The brainchild of Nielsen and The Vandals’ Warren Fitzgerald, the hardcover book explores the artwork of over two dozen artists, spanning roughly 200 pages. These creators are individuals who are largely known for their ‘day jobs’: people like Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, Pennywise’s Jim Lindberg, Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Flogging Molly’s Matt Hensley, Butcher Babies’ Carla Harvey, Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s Jennie Cotterill, tattoo artists Dan Smith and Tokyo Hiro, “Skater of the Century” Steve Caballero, playwright and activist Soma Snakeoil, and more.

But this is something much greater than a printed anthology. These pages stand as a reminder, according to Nielsen, “to follow your dreams whatever they may be, take a second or third (or tenth) chance before ever giving up, and that just because you went down one road does not mean there is not plenty of time to change the game plan.”

Spread out like a collection of photo essays on each individual, the book takes a journalistic approach to telling each of their personal narratives. In this, if you don’t know your Armstrongs from your Benantes, enough backstory is provided to inform even the casual reader. However, this is different from other art treasuries, however, in that here the reader is given a chance to step inside the muses that brought rockers, punks, athletes, and beyond to explore the varying artistic mediums beyond music.

And these artists are worth your attention, even if you’ve never heard a Punk Rock track in your entire life. That’s why it’s so enjoyable to be given a front row seat for Caballero’s ink drawings, Paul Kobriger’s photorealism, Brent Broza’s abstract photography and painting, Fitzgerald’s oil on canvas, as well as Shawn Foley’s portrait paintings. Additionally, tattoo artist Dan Smith delivers some of his flash, as well as a merch design created for H20, while bassist of Hardcore legends Agnostic Front, Mike Gallo, shares his mixed media art fraught with pop culture references. Throughout the collection, this is a running theme: some of the works are created to spread socially relevant messages, while others are inspired by iconic imagery such as Universal monsters or Tom & Jerry.

As with anything, there are stand-outs. So, for example, despite being Hip Hop royalty, Chali 2Na is also an exceptionally gifted painter. His pieces include a stunning brown and white homage to James Brown, as well as “Divine,” a painting that depicts a sacred Sadhu Monk from India. Then there’s Natalia Fabia—who admits that she “don’t have time for bullshit” but she does have plenty of time for glitter (amen!)a traditionalist realist painter who focuses on the female form. Her paintings, such as “Pool Party,” literally look like photographs created through the lens of feminist sensibilities.

Butcher Babies’ Harvey takes a slightly different approach to her paintings, which are bold and provocative, often flaunting themes of erotica and violence. Yet another female artist, Danielle Donahue, scores a full-page for one of her paintings, a stunning and emotive, if minimalist, image. This is the antithesis of Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s Cotterill’s work, which is anything but simple. Her divine “Sagrado Corazon” is a coffin-shaped mixed media offering made from wood, foam, epoxy clay, metal, acrylic paint, leather and lace, and gold leaf. But don’t overlook “We Are All the Stuff of Stars,” which includes LED lights and glitter.

Unfortunately, glitter does not make its way into any of the men’s art (yet!). Instead, professional skateboarder Jason Adams brings us the vibrant and eye-catching “Johnny Rotten ‘No Feelings’,” a mixed media piece created with stencil, aerosol, and latex on wood panel, while tattoo artist Tokyo Hiro provides us with some of the design work that he’s done for the likes of Foo Fighters, Motorhead, blink-182 and Flogging Molly. Of course, there are plenty of other creatives depicted inside these pages, including Jason Alexander Cruz (Strung Out, Jason Cruz and the Howl), Eric Melvin (NOFX) and his wife Sarah, and more.

That said, the downside to Punk Rock & Paintbrushes, if there is one, is that this is a collective and, therefore, none of the artists are given in-depth coverage. While a few of the spotlighted creatives do manage to score full-page renderings of their work, the majority of the actual artwork shared here is cropped small enough to fit multiple images on a single page. This is a double-edged sword: while it detracts from the fine details of each piece, it allows for more artists to be featured. 

Similarly, the personal narratives that provide each creator’s background take space away from their actual art, though they simultaneously provide a more intimate experience. Obviously if you purchase the latest published collection from nearly any artist you are receiving images only, save for an introduction. So while these images might be larger and allowed more breathing room on their pages, they are rarely accompanied by a written window into their maker’s soul.

So, yes, there are caveats to Punk Rock & Paintbrushes that some will frown upon while others are just as likely to embrace their inclusion. Much like the subjective nature of art itself, Nielsen and Fitzgerald’s choice of presentation is not going to appease everyone—but it doesn’t set out to do so. The works inside these pages are provocative yet calming, socially conscious tributes to pop culture and beyond, meant to inspire and to challenge. Because if music has the power to unite and to heal, and so does art, shouldn’t the combination of the two genres be an unstoppable force?

Catharsis on pretty paper, Punk Rock & Paintbrushes: The Insides of Artists Written By Outsiders believes in the words of Andy Warhol, that the idea is not “to live forever, but to create something that will.” If that is too much weight to bear at this moment in time, then, more simply put, if you need to know why Van Gogh was “punk af,” this is the coffee table book for you! Because we’re messy, too, Cryptic Rock gives Punk Rock & Paintbrushes: The Insides of Artists Written By Outsiders 4 of 5 stars.

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