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Rock legend and unique artistic voice

Jimi Hendrix is revered the world over as a rock legend, a groundbreaking performer, an inspired lyricist and an all round wild child, but this 20th century icon had yet another string to his creative bow that is a lot less well known. This autumn we are proud to present the Jimi Hendrix premier international collection of artworks, a series of water colour visions that give us a new insight into the creative mind of the man we thought we knew.


Jimi grew up in a small town outside Seattle in the 1950s. His youth was spent playing sport, going to the coast and being in and amongst nature. Anyone familiar with his songs will know the inferences relating to the Pacific Northwest with its dramatic landscape and uncertain weather, and these were both things that impacted on his sense of the world and informed his creative genius both in terms of music and art.


His earliest artworks were produced while he was still at high school; detailed pictures of college footballers kitted out in their team uniforms, and the famously exciting and dramatic hydroplane racing on Lake Washington. He was meticulous about each image, writing on dates, and annotating them with comments such as ‘these are the exact colors’. Looking back, some of the work is easily dismissed, but closer examination shows that as time passed a definite style began to develop in his water colours. What makes these works interesting is not so much the honed talent of an artist at work, as a life-moment captured and transformed into a visual statement, in the same way that Jimi’s unique musical gift transformed life into a soundtrack. As his creativity gathered impetus and he began to write songs, his paintings underwent a change. The subjects moved out of focus and the backgrounds began to take centre stage; with this change a more intense, dreamlike mood began to take over.


After he achieved fame Jimi’s artwork tailed off; he was busy with writing and touring, and of course his life was cut tragically short at the age of 27. His brief career was not an easy one and he was buffeted by a music industry that used and abused him to make maximum profits as fast as possible. Yet he would find a moment here and there to open his sketchbook on the tour bus and later to turn to his paints.


Jimi’s art is part of the same story as his music in the journey it has taken towards recognition. In the early days his music was not well received in the USA and he came to London which was where he began to make his mark. The UK was more receptive to the Hendrix phenomenon and he felt a strong bond with England, calling London his home. It has to be remembered that 1950s America was a difficult place for a young man whose mixed heritage was black, white and Native American. With the painful struggle for civil rights underway, black musicians in the States were pigeonholed as soul singers, and anyone falling outside the expected parameters was not accepted. In London, Jimi felt that no-one cared about his colour – it was his music that counted here in the UK. He knew his look was unique and played it to the hilt. While other musicians at the time were spending the cash from a gig on drugs, Jimi understood that he had a persona to maintain and went out buying clothes, earning himself the nickname Jimi the Fop. London loved him. IN a similar way his art was initially unnoticed in the States, while in the UK there was interest and excitement when the paintings came to light.


As Jimi’s day-to-day existence became increasingly dishevelled and torn apart, he tunnelled in and his later artworks have a greater intensity than previously. His extraordinary body of music combined with his all too brief life have given him legendary status, surrounding him with a mystique that still fascinates us 40 years after his death. This fascination permeates his artwork, which has an aura of dreamlike intensity and a promise that was never quite allowed to be fulfilled.