This weekend saw Manic Street Preachers‘ Nicky Wire launch the first ever exhibition of his own artwork. Check out our interview with Wire below about what to expect, and the band’s plans to commemorate 20 years of their seminal album ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’.
After releasing his collected photography in the book ‘Death of a Polaroid: A Manics Family Album’ in 2011, Wire’s artwork will be on display in his first exhibition ‘Paintings and Polaroids’ on at Tenby Museum And Art Gallery in Wales from September 14 – October 21. The show opened on the same day of the 20th anniversary of ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ – the band’s huge-selling fifth album featuring the likes of ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, ‘Tsunami’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’.
“The work 0n display spans over three decades,” Wire told NME ahead of the launch. “It’s mixture of polaroids and paintings. There’s a great tradition of bass-playing artists: Kim Gordon, Paul Simonon, Paul McCartney – I thought I’d join that club.”
“It’s a great cleansing exercise, really. Hopefully they’ll all sell, as well. It’s all for sale. I just feel like passing on my obsessions and my love. It feels like the right time.”
Wire continued: “I’m very attached to anything rooted in the past, but as the process started to develop it felt like the right thing to do. They look much better as a collection rather than in the corner of my house. There’s everything in there from some small and precious painted polaroids from ‘Rewind The Film’ to some massive doors that I’ve been painting on for 20 years. A lot of it is found materials from skips.”
Would you say yours is a very ‘punk’ approach to art?
“It’s very degradable. You can feel the tape and the glue; it’s incredibly tactile. Some of the polaroids are 25-years-old and just fade before your eyes when they’re exposed. I love that whole thing: the vanishing world.”
Manics’ music has always been married to other’s art. How was the process behind this different?
“I was just doing a little list of Manics’ songs inspired by artists or paintings and I came up with 13 really easily. ‘To Repel Ghosts’ was a painting by Basquiat, ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’ was Mvnch, ‘International Blue’ was Yves Klein, ‘Door To The River’ and ‘Interiors’ were Willem De Kooning, ‘La Tristesse Durera’ were supposedly Van Gogh’s last words, ‘My Guernica’ was inspired by Picasso. I think it’s always been in our DNA.
“It’s a real relief for me. Unlike a certain Manics’ lyric which has to have a certain weight to it and meaning, the artwork is much more celebratory and is about being inspired by colour, someone’s life, music or art. There’s much less overwrought depth, which often seems to be the case with Manics’ words.”
Are there any figures in there that might surprise people? Fans might be expecting a kind of classicism to your work, but I remember seeing one of your collages from a while ago featuring Pete Doherty…
“Yeah, I know what you mean – there’s a certain Manics aesthetic involved. There’s one in the collection of Miles Davies, which some might not feel is a natural fit. A lot of it is purely abstract anyway. There’s a J.G. Ballard piece called ‘Note To The Mirror’, which features smashed up glass, keyboards and images that I love.”
What can you say about the mood, message and inspiration behind your abstract art?
“It’s that release I was talking about. It’s much less weighed down by meaning; that’s why I enjoy painting so much rather than trying to re-write ‘If You Tolerate This’. It’s second-hand, as these artists put so much thought into their work and I can just feed off the impact and the beauty. It’s nice to just show off my love for other stuff.”
After ‘Death Of A Polaroid’, do you plan to collect your work into a book again?
“Maybe. There are a few interested parties. I feel like it should fly away a bit now so I can lose myself from it. Fans can buy this stuff – it’s not super expensive.”
Once it’s sold, will you just be clearing the decks and starting again?
“Yes, and it’s the same for the band too. Somehow, we’ve managed to get through quite a difficult 18 months and have a really good year in terms of the record, the tour and radioplay. It feels like we have a clean palette to really push ourselves forwards.”
The last time we spoke, you said you couldn’t imagine another new Manics’ record, but you still had the hunger for the fight. Do you still feel that way?
“I just think musically, James [Dean Bradfield, frontman] is bursting with electricity. You can feel it in him. He’s got that desire to start up again. He was talking to me about ideas on how to make things more expansive. I’ve some words on the go, but there’s no coherent message. I’ve just been listening to ‘This Is My Truth’ a lot. It’s such a deep and heavy album for a record that was so big. It just makes you realise that you can push the limits and have success.”
Are you still itching to do the ‘This Is My Truth’ re-release?
“Yes, James has remastered it, I found all the demos. They’re amazing – all on cassettes, recorded in someone’s front room. We’ve put [fan favourite B-side] ‘Prologue To History’ on the album now and kicked off ‘Nobody Loved You’. We’ve moved that onto disc two with a great demo that we’ve found. It’s packed full of really interesting and intimate stuff, as well as us in the studio and off the leash on certain songs like ‘Tsunami’ that are much more raw. There are some amazing remixes too – by people like Mogwai, Massive Attack and Cornelius. It was a great period where people would take your work and transform it into something really special.”
Will there be a tour to go with it?
“We might do one next year. We’re looking into it now. We might do some really nice old-school dates of our favourite venues – nothing too gigantic. I just finished the artwork off and that’s looking really nice. Other than that, it’ll be back to studio life. James feels like another album could come really quickly at the moment – not that we’ve done anything. He’s in that mode though.”
Nostalgia aside, it must feel good to have had ‘Resistance Is Futile’ so well received and fully absorbed by an audience?
“It really does. I feel like we’ve picked up a slightly new audience again, which doesn’t always happen. There’s been a physical new fanzine set up for us called Monochrome Desire, which is rare. Stuff like that just keeps you young. There’s a real beating heart to the record. ‘People Give In’ is the latest single and it’s still connecting with people. We’re very lucky.”
It’s an album with a message. Richard Ashcroft said last week that bands should focus on entertainment rather than politics and ‘stop making speeches’. How do you feel about that, as a band who’ve always focussed on both?
“We’re the only band who do both. We have our feet in many camps. We can’t pretend that we’re as overtly political as we once were, because it’s too exhausting and confusing to make any kind of statement without it turning into a volcano of shit from many sides. I know what Mr Ashcroft is saying as it sometimes feels like people should be a bit quieter and get on with it, but the times we are in are extremely vocal. Nonsensical, but vocal. It’s mad that a song like ‘If You Tolerate This’ was so loaded with depth, meaning and sold so many copies, and I think it’s still in our DNA to do that. It still matters to us.”
You must be a fan of IDLES then?
“Yes. It gave me a brilliant feeling of warmth to see them smashing into the top 10 with that album [‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’]. I was really chuffed for them. I loved the Gwenno album too, and Nadine Shah made a really interesting record. I think she’ll win the Mercury. Riley Walker too, plus he’s fucking brilliant on Twitter too.”
‘Paintings and Polaroids’ will be on display at Tenby Museum And Art Gallery in Wales from September 14 – October 21.