Public Media Arts Hub

Grateful Dead drummer combines music and paint to express the role rhythm plays in his art


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: A number of prominent musicians, including George Gershwin, Miles Davis, and John Lennon, were also artists in other mediums.

You can now add Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart to that list.

Special correspondent Mike Cerre visited Hart in Las Vegas, where his fans are flocking to see his art and to hear his band play in its summer residency. It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Mickey Hart, Musician and Artist: Painting is like music. When I paint, I can hear the music. I can hear the paintings. And they're full of rhythm. And that's what I do.

Mike Cerre: For percussionist Mickey Hart, art is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Mickey Hart: I like to create things from nothing, to make things happen. And visual or sonic, it doesn't matter. It's just the act of creation.

Mike Cerre: For more than a half-century, Mickey Hart has been part of creating the Grateful Dead's enduring magic as a percussionist throughout its many iterations, the latest as Dead and Company.

Mickey Hart: OK, we're -- mind your head, kids. Mind you head.

Mike Cerre: More recently, he's taken on painting as a second career, both as an emotional release from his day job and as another medium for expressing the fundamental role rhythm plays in all of his work.

Mickey Hart: I paint with multicolors. I also play with multirhythms, polyrhythms. So they're very similar in many ways.

Mike Cerre: Is it performance art? Because you are dancing to the rhythms.

Mickey Hart: It is.

Mike Cerre: You are moving to the sounds in your studio.

Mickey Hart: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. When I paint, I have music going and I'm painting in rhythm and I'm grooving and I'm having fun.

Mike Cerre: Rhythm is more than just an inspiration for his art. It's an integral part of his technique, which he and others are calling vibrational expressionism.

Some of his canvases are the actual drumheads and cymbals he's performed with over the years. They are placed on top of massive audio speakers to let the rhythmic vibrations move the paint around, forming unique patterns that can't be created with brushes.

Mickey Hart: Paint brushes are too limited for me. hand everybody paints with brushes. So I imagine I couldn't paint better than a billion other people.

But this is a different kind of painting. I use buckets and all kinds of things that hang from the ceiling that make figure eights and circular movements.

Jackson Pollock, Artist: Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.

Mike Cerre: Did Jackson Pollock inspire you at all?

Mickey Hart: Oh, yes. Jackson Pollock was one of my idols.

Jackson Pollock: I can control the flow of the paint. That was no accident.

Mickey Hart: And he was random. And I like random. And I like chaos. Chaos -- I embrace chaos. And so did Pollock. But he only went so far. And I was going to take it further than that, take it into the vibrational world.

Mike Cerre: His sources of good vibrations for painting come from as far away as outer space, from his previous collaboration with Nobel Prize winning physicist and Deadhead Dr. George Smoot and as close to home as his own brain's reflection of different rhythms from his medical research with neurologist Dr. Adam Gazzaley.

Mickey Hart: They're interchangeable for me, sound and light. Light, of course, is very powerful, more powerful than the sound, the eyes, anyway, as an organ, more powerful than the ear.

So I naturally just gravitated to the visual domain from the sonic domain.

Mike Cerre: As nontraditional as his technique, so is his first major gallery exhibition, here at a Las Vegas casino, where he's created a pop-up gallery for his work at the Venetian Hotel, so longtime Deadheads can see and possibly buy some of his art, like Larry Watton from New York.

Larry Watton, Deadhead: I know him more as a musician, but I think him as a full artist. His whole being is awed.

Robin Lammon, Deadhead: We're dead heads from way back. We want to see everything in this exhibit.

Mike Cerre: Robin and Tim Lammon came from Florida for both Mickey Hart's music and his art.

Tim Lammon, Deadhead: I have seen some of his art some other places.

Mike Cerre: Are you surprised by the thing you see here?

Tim Lammon: Yes, it's actually really good.


Tim Lammon: I wasn't expecting it to be this good.

Mickey Hart: Everybody sees something different in the paintings, and everybody hears something different in the music. And that's the beauty of both, is because there's mystery involved in it.

Mike Cerre: What about now art critics? When you put your art out there, they're not going to be necessarily the critics.

Mickey Hart: I don't think of critics anymore. Critics are long gone. I don't care what they say. It doesn't really matter to me. I hope they like it. If they don't, well, they don't. But it wouldn't stop me, because I'm not doing it for the critics. I'm doing it for people and for myself and maybe for the world of art.

Mike Cerre: His art gallery exhibit is convenient for his other career and day job, playing with Dead and Company at the Las Vegas Sphere, yet another canvas for showcasing both of his art forms simultaneously on the world's largest LED screen.

Mickey Hart: When I'm painting, the same thing happens. It's a groove. And I'm improvising. I improvise in the Grateful Dead, Dead and Company. That's improvisational music.

This is the same in paints. It's jamming. It's -- I love the jam, no matter what it is.

Mike Cerre: For the PBS "NewsHour," Mike Cerre at the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.