A painter whose first one-man show in New York runs through Saturday at the Mary Boone Gallery, 417 West Broadway, may be better known to music-lovers than to the art world. The prestigious gallery, which has represented David Salle and Julian Schnabel, has a show of eight large, boldly colored canvases by Don Van Vliet, the composer, saxophonist and harmonica player who has been making records since the 1960’s as Captain Beefheart. The style of such paintings as ”Eye Whine” and ”Gum at the Bottom of the Grocery” will be familiar to owners of the albums ”Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller),” ”Ice Cream for Crow” or ”Doc at the Radar Station,” which have Van Vliet covers.
”I haven’t shown a new artist in three years,” said Miss Boone. ”The artists I’ve always liked are the ones who have had enough courage to question accepted rules and standards and to act on that. Don Van Vliet is very much an outsider. For the last 20 years, he has been doing figurative painting, with a very steady, consistent vocabulary of forms and images.”
Mr. Van Vliet has also been an outsider in the music business. His music uses rock and blues instrumentation – drums, guitars, horns and voice – in songs with sprung rhythms, asymmetrical counterpoint and earthy, free-associative lyrics, with such titles as ”Japan in a Dishpan” and ”Tropical Hot Dog Night.” Although songs with a shifting beat and raucous dissonances were never exactly commercial, Mr. Van Vliet’s music has been cited as influential by performers from the Clash to Laurie Anderson.
‘’I’m real serious,’’ Mr. Van Vliet said from his home in California. ”A lot of people didn’t know that; they thought it was just random function. My music and the paintings are the same thing, really. I don’t think I would have been able to do the music if I hadn’t been an artist. With both of them, you have to capture the moment in your mind and maintain it.
‘’I did the music out of boredom, and out of irritation, and the paintings too – when you see them, you can tell that I was very upset when I was doing them. I guess I’ve been upset for 44 years.”
The most recent album by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band was ”Ice Cream for Crow,” released in 1982, and Mr. Van Vliet has no immediate plans for another. He has lost interest in live performances.
‘Right now, trying not to laugh when I look in the mirror is enough performance for me,” Mr. Van Vliet said. ”I will never quit doing music. But I’m definitely enjoying the time to be able to paint. I’ve never had so much fun with my clothes on.’
c. 1985 New York Times Company