Kim Gordon: Making Noise

Kim Gordon, who this week will celebrate the opening of her art exhibit at New York’s KS Art Gallery, talks about her creative life.

Styled By Kim Friday
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On a windy Thursday morning in Northampton, Mass., Kim Gordon is holding court in her basement, giving a tour of its cavernous environs. There’s the usual storage miscellany — boxes, discarded decorations and dusty, decades-old puzzles, including a 150-piece jigsaw of Starsky and Hutch resting askew on an even dustier bookshelf. But this is Gordon, she of Sonic Youth fame, and the brimming cornucopia of plain-old stuff here is both treasure trove and time capsule. For starters, this is where Gordon and Thurston Moore, her bandmate and husband, rehearse. “We wrote most of the last record [2009’s ‘The Eternal’] here,” she says, gesturing toward the drum set, guitars and music stands littered throughout. The back half of the space is bursting with records, cassette tapes and CDs in endless bookshelves and rows — that’s Moore’s personal collection.

The rest of the odds and ends scattered around are more indicative of Gordon’s life off the stage. Here, on the wall, is a traditional Chinese painting of birds among flora. Gordon reveals that when she was 12, she spent a year living in Hong Kong, thus the random Chinese tchotchkes. There, on a shelf, are two sculpted clay busts (art projects from Gordon’s childhood) and, over in a corner, is an impressive glass painting from high school of a seated figure with her arms tucked close to her chest, hands to chin. “I liked the fluidity of painting on glass,” she remarks. “That’s one thing that got me back to the watercolors.”

Gordon is talking about her recent immersion in the medium. In March, she published a book of artwork “Performing/Guzzling,” with Rizzoli; last month, she came out with a portfolio, “Kim Gordon: The Noise Paintings,” to accompany a current exhibit at the John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller and Art Gallery, and on Friday, she will open yet another show at KS Art Gallery, which will also double as the book party for “Performing/Guzzling.” Come June, she’ll publish yet another art series, with New York boutique No. 6.

So is Kim Gordon in the midst of an art moment?

If she is, just don’t tell her about it. Gordon is quick to shut down any suggestions that, with all the goings-on, there’s something unusual stirring. But she does concede that her increased art output of late comes, in part, from being a mother to 16-year-old Coco. “You want to be a good role model,” she says, “and make sure you do the things you started out to do in your life.”

Those more familiar with Gordon’s iconic rock-star status — the name “Godmother of Grunge” is frequently bandied about — might be surprised to learn the Los Angeles-raised singer started her career as a visual artist. A graduate of L.A.’s Otis College of Art and Design, Gordon didn’t formally enter the music scene until fellow artist and friend Dan Graham cast her in an all-girl band for a performance piece in 1980.

She met Moore shortly afterwards, and the two, with Lee Ranaldo, formed Sonic Youth in 1981. (The group, who will be giving a free concert at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in July, now includes Steve Shelley and Mark Ibold, as well.)

Gordon has always mined her arty roots — whether writing for Artforum in the Eighties or incorporating the works of Gerhard Richter and Mike Kelley, among others, in album cover art. She has participated in and curated the occasional exhibit before, too.

But until recently, she has kept her own artwork fairly separate from the music realm. “I wanted to be taken seriously as an [visual] artist,” she says, “and it’s hard if people know you better as a musician. But, I don’t know, I kind of realized it doesn’t really matter.” The new publications, to that end, all feature music-inspired artwork.

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