Art of noise

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Prodded by the bevy of nostalgia programming on VH1, we tend to view past rock stars only in terms of the past, unless where they are now makes for good gossip or reality programming.

When most people think of Ric Ocasek, his hits from the late '70s and early '80s may be all that come to mind. But over the past two decades, the former Cars singer-songwriter has quietly released several critically acclaimed solo albums and established a reputation as an artist-friendly, radio-savvy producer, through bands as diverse as Weezer, No Doubt, Guided by Voices and Bad Brains.

At the same time, he's been drawing. A lot. "I remember when I [produced] Weezer, they'd say, 'Oh Ric's always drawing.' And I was, but I was listening," Ocasek told me.

Another who noticed was gallery owner Jacquie Mahan. Through the end of April, she's hosting Ocasek's introduction to the art world, Noise Colored Party, a solo exhibition of more than 150 drawings and photographs made over 20 years. It opened last Friday with a packed private reception.

Mahan's longtime partner, designer Adam Otcasek, is Ocasek's son, and when she started visiting Ocasek's home in New York City more often after the birth of son Donovan, she caught on to his daily drawing routine and took a look at the work.

"They were just these crazy abstracts, but they were so meticulous," Mahan recalled. "The line was so beautiful."

Adam had mentioned his father's artwork to Mahan shortly after they'd met, and Ocasek had shared some photographs and poetry with her on their first meeting, but her discovery of the drawings was what led her to encourage Ocasek to show somewhere, anywhere.

"I wouldn't presume he'd want to show at this gallery," Mahan said.

Last summer, another family member - Ocasek's wife, Paulina Porizkova - prompted Mahan to ask him about showing in Columbus. Ocasek pored through boxes and sketchbooks, and by January, he presented Mahan with a large selection of works.

In the lull between Friday's opening and Saturday's Gallery Hop, Ocasek, joined by Adam, was available to talk, while the dense installation, unobstructed by crowds, was free to testify to the qualities that first attracted Mahan to his work.

There's a charming, self-taught funkiness in the stream-of-consciousness drawings and freeform photography, as well as an inherent sense of composition and a flowing, confident line. It projects natural rhythm, and it's grown more refined with time.

Before Porizkova and family arrived for a trip across the street to Jeni's Ice Creams, Ocasek explained that to him, the drawings are a form of meditation. "It was a way for me to think. Some of them are real tense - they could be a bad phone call. But some of them are, well, more calming to me."

The few who saw them as they were made responded positively. Once during a mastering lab, Ocasek started drawing on some paper plates, and found the drawings framed on the wall when he returned to pick up his masters.

"You know, bands would take them, and people would ask me if they could have them, so I gave a lot away," Ocasek said.

They're now selling well, a possibility that hadn't previously occurred to the artist.

"I never really cared about where I went with it," he explained. "If I liked [a piece] I kept it, if I didn't I dumped it. But I never went around thinking, Oh, this is great. I just thought it was an extension.

"I never even showed this to people. I thought, someday, maybe I'd do a book of it. But Jacquie kind of talked me into doing this, which I'm happy she did. It's fun to see them like this."

What: "Ric Ocasek: Noise Colored Party"

When: Through April 25

Where: Mahan Gallery, Short North

Web: mahangallery.com