KISS’ Paul Stanley on His ‘Black Series’ and Painting Without Limitations

Paul Stanley is widely known as one of the founders and frontmen of KISS, yet there’s another art form he’s found meaning in outside of music. For more than two decades, Stanley has dedicated time to fine art, developing a passion for painting during one of the most challenging times of his life.

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Stanley channeled his inner pain into art and has created several pieces that have been on display in galleries all over the U.S. Ahead of his 2023 fine art tour at Wentworth Gallery locations across the country promoting his new Black Series, Stanley spoke with American Songwriter about what sparked his interest in painting, the difference between artistic and musical creativity and much more.

American Songwriter: How did you get into painting? Do you remember what your first painting was?

Paul Stanley: I think it was probably around 2001. I was going through some turmoil in my life and my best friend said to me, “You should paint.” I thought that was a very strange statement from him. But I also thought, “That’s very interesting” and something about it resonated with me. I went out and bought paints and an easel and brushes and decided to paint. At first, it was just going to be really purging in color – stream of consciousness with paint. Although the first thing that I did paint was a self-portrait because I figured if I’m going to paint, I should know the guy who’s painting. I did a self-portrait and thankfully people who saw it knew who it was because I probably would’ve had second thoughts if nobody could recognize me. So that was the start. 

I certainly never painted with the idea of anyone seeing my work. It was really a private, cathartic kind of experience for me. I hung a few pieces in my house and invariably people would ask me who did them. I didn’t sign them because I was too self-conscious. At some point, someone I knew in Maui who had a gallery suggested that I do a show which I was very ambivalent and doubtful about. I exhibited a bunch of pieces at his gallery one day and people took them home. I was just very surprised. That was the start of my painting as not only a passion but also a profession of sorts. 

There’s something very satisfying about getting something out and then also being able to see it. So it was a visual representation of how I was feeling on any given day, and it was really very calming and satisfying. It was like a good scream.

AS: What is it about your paintings that people relate to, to the point where it went from being these things you were doing for yourself to now being in museums across the world?

PS: For me, it’s been a journey that people have watched, and certainly my painting has developed, my skill level has developed and also what I want to do has changed. I’m certainly not Picasso by any stretch of the imagination, but he said if he had to describe himself, he would say he’s an artist without a style. I like that a lot because I don’t really want to perfect a style, I just want to perfect the ability to express myself. So my pieces are really all over the place in terms of style because I don’t paint with any limitations, so for me, it’s all about no boundaries and whatever feels right at the moment. What I might work on today might have very little in common with what I’ll do in a few weeks. However, the one thing that really unifies all my pieces is color.

I use a lot of color and someone said I was fearless with color, and I said, “What’s there to fear?” For me, color is an extension of how I view my life, and it’s vibrant because my life is vibrant. There have been painters and artists who you could really get a visual reflection of where they were at, either emotionally or psychologically by their paintings. My paintings are all vibrant, that’s how I view life. I just figure the worst day I’ve had is still a miracle.

AS: What are you able to express on the canvas that maybe you can’t through music?

PS: The great thing about art and painting is, for me, there’s no structure. With songwriting, I’m aware of lyrics, which have to be written, I’m aware of rhyme schemes that have to be followed, musical relationships of keys and structure, intro verse, chorus bridge, etc. I find art to have really no boundaries and there’s no absolute requirements as far as I’m concerned. I paint without any restrictions.

AS: Tell me about your Black Series that you’re taking on the road on this fine art tour. How did you go about creating this series and how is it different from other works that you’ve created?

PS: Most paintings I would say are done on white canvas and the reason is because it kind of brings light to the paint and to the image from behind. It kind of brightens the colors. But I found some black canvas and became intrigued with the idea of painting on that. I found that it was very powerful. The color seemed to come out of nowhere, which was really interesting to me. I did quite a few of those.

Every time I paint or after I do multiples, certainly I move on just because that’s my nature, and I’d like to think that’s how people live. In creativity, I think you’re always discovering something and adding to it. So whether it’s performance art or fine art, you are a work in progress, so you’re the extension of you that you use for expression should be a work in progress.

AS: What emotions did you pour into these pieces and how did those come out on the canvas?

PS: It really was discovery. It was going into a black room, and that was really fun to find my way through the darkness and bring light to it. So I didn’t really want to approach it with any preconceived ideas, I just wanted to bring color to the darkness. I think we all lighten up as we bring light and color into our lives. Not to get metaphorical, but if you go into a room and you light a candle, there’s a moment of awe and excitement in seeing what you didn’t see before. … What’s so exciting is pulling something out of the darkness or pulling something out of a blank page, no different than any other creative outlet.

AS: I did want to ask about “QTR” [quality time remaining] because I saw that you put that quote in a recent painting that you did. Tell me about that painting and how that phrase connects to the work.

PS: They’re all expressions of either my thoughts or subconscious. I think we are all seeing a lot of icons and people that we’ve related to in one way or another in the public eye dying, and I just felt that maybe for myself, I needed to express that. If you live without excuses, you die without regrets, so that’s important. Quality time remaining is important – what you do with your time, who you’re with, what you give to them, and what you give to life into the world and to your children becomes more and more important.

AS: How is touring on a fine art tour artistically and creatively different than doing a music tour?

PS: What I really feel strongly about is knocking down the barriers and the intimidation that a lot of people feel, whether it’s having an opinion about art or going to the theater. Theater started in the street, it started for the general public, and then it became, I think, a bit intimidating and people saw it as some sort of white glove affair, which it’s not. I think critics who depend on the public for salary have brainwashed a lot of people into thinking that your opinion is invalid unless it’s educated or you’re listening to somebody who professes to know more than you. So when somebody starts a conversation with me and says, “I don’t know anything about art,” that’s when I stop them and say, “What is there you need to know? You know what you like, and that’s what validates it.” Somebody’s taste and opinion is purely subjective. It doesn’t need an education to know what affects you emotionally.

Stanley’s tour launched on February 3 in Hollywood, Florida. It resumes on February 24 in Bethesda, Maryland, and concludes on February 25 in McLean, Virginia.

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/ 

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