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Gallery Scene

Rocker Has an Artist's Eye

The exhibit opening was fairly tame, but Marilyn Manson's watercolors can be oddly appealing

September 26, 2002|JESSICA HUNDLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There may have been raven-haired Amazons in black bustiers, porcelain-skinned boys with kohl-rimmed eyes and bottomless glasses of milky green Absente (absinthe's less potent American cousin), but in the end the most surreal thing about the VIP premiere for Marilyn Manson's debut watercolors collection (aptly titled "The Golden Age of Grotesque") was its remarkable lack of surrealism. Not that there wasn't the prerequisite weirdness.

A smattering of Hollywood's edgy celebs made their usual dramatic arrivals at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions gallery. A swaggering Nic Cage waltzed in arm-in-arm with a grim-faced, stiletto-heeled Lisa Marie Presley. Andy Dick hammed for the MTV cameras while Crispin Glover skulked nervously in a corner. Even little Jack Osborne made an appearance, rushing through the gallery trailing adolescent hormones and an ever-present camera crew.

There were whispers that Anna Nicole Smith was due to appear at any moment with her own show's entourage, but alas, the collision of two reality TV series in one small room was not to be.

Yet despite all the hoopla, the opening (sponsored by the L.A.-based magazine Flaunt) was surprisingly tame, simply a small horde of press, publicists and assorted hangers-on pretending not to look at one another while they waited for something extraordinary to happen.

Nothing did.

The fact of the matter was that Manson (rock 'n' roll antihero, occasional pop pariah and facile media manipulator) had merely produced some strangely appealing, delicately colored, sometimes unsettling paintings using a medium normally favored by landscape artists and third-graders.

"I think they're very heartfelt," said local artist Camille Rose Garcia, gazing up at a canvas that featured a prettily rendered depiction of the infamous Black Dahlia murder. "They remind me a little of Egon Schiele, but he's definitely bringing in his own Marilyn Manson thing, which is nice to see. Critics might be ready to dig the guy a grave, but these are actually really sincerely painted."

In the midst of the crowd the man of the hour shuffled about in crepe-soled Frankenstein boots, humbly fielding compliments and occasional reaching up to brush a lock of ebony hair from his meticulously blackened eyes. At his side was lover Dita Von Tease, queen of the new burlesque renaissance and subject of several of the show's more interesting portraits.

"People are actually buying my paintings," said Manson, as if this fact came as some surprise. Talking to Manson is not easy to do. He is nearly 7 feet tall in his boots, and he wears a thick coat of alabaster face makeup, which is disconcerting enough, but it is the one opaque contact lens that throws you. This eye catches and reflects the light, which means Manson sees out but you can't see in.

Yet when he speaks about his work, Manson changes. A blush creeps up from under the white, and it becomes apparent that he may be the last thing you expected: just an ordinary guy who likes to paint. "I've been drawing since I was a kid," Manson says, his one clear eye glowing. "It was an escape for me. And it still is. Painting is just you and a piece of paper, and no one can tell you what the rules are because there aren't any.

"I never intended to paint for anyone other than myself. But I realized eventually that this is something I should show people because this is a part of who I am."

"The Golden Age of Grotesque" can be viewed at www.marilynmanson.com; click on Art Galleria.

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