Portrait of a Magic Man: David Byrne

David Byrne for Mark Brush

David Byrne for Mark Brush

A couple months ago I promoted a contest on this blog. The challenge to readers was to tell me why they dug their favorite musician. My favorite response would receive a custom-made portrait of this musician. The responses were so good, so moving, that I chose two favorites: Mark Brush’s of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Kelsey McCune’s of Portland, Oregon.

Mark’s fave is Mr. David Byrne. Before starting the portrait, I had only a nodding familiarity with his music. Knew the standard stuff, never really got that into it. After reading Mark’s marvelous essay, I checked out a few of Byrne’s CDs from the NY Public Library. I also watched Stop Making Sense, for the first time ever. For further inspiration, Mark sent me a mix CD of his favorite Byrne songs, some with the Talking Heads, most without. To top it off, I went to see him perform live in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. That did it. Now I get David Byrne.

He puts on a helluva show. The music is one thing, but you gotta see it performed live (at least watch Stop Making Sense) to really appreciate David Byrne. The dancers, the lights, the staging, etc. It’s art. And magic. I was there as he cast a spell on several thousand of us that evening in Brooklyn. It was benevolent, and I’m pretty sure David Byrne is a magic man.

About the painting: I wanted to do a statesman-like portrait. There’s a dignity and importance to David Byrne that merits it. But there’s also a certain amount of absurdity, too. And cosmic relevance. And fun. And of course, dancing. This is why I included dancers on the line dividing yin and yang behind him, including the lamp from Stop Making Sense, a tiger behind him (from Life is Long on his latest album), Bugs Bunny (my favorite trickster icon), a ballet dancer (homage to the show I saw where they all came out in tutus for the encore) and Pan, piping away as he leads them all up the slope. The cosmic cherry on top of his whipped-cream hair is a nod to Magritte and his green apples. The roses in the lower corners imply saintliness and the trees growing down from the sky… because, why not? Behind him are some letter that may or may not spell out LIVE, LOVE, or (read from the bottom up and off the page) maybe even EVOLVE. The spacey glyphs on the right are best viewed by cocking your head 90 degrees to your left.

Kelsey McCune told me why Nina Simone rules, and she’s on deck. And boy, is she bad. I should have her portrait finished this month. I appreciate your patience, Mark and Kelsey. It’s been a busy summer.



Filed under original art

4 responses to “Portrait of a Magic Man: David Byrne

  1. That is truly awesome! I think this could be your best portrait yet.

  2. Mark B

    Truly beautiful – I’m touched you did this for me – he’s been a central character in my life since my brothers introduced him to me way back when. The portrait really captures the depth and whimsy of the man and his music. Thank you John!

  3. John…your remark about my work is greatly appreciated. Is that your portrait / painting of one of my life’s hero’s ? David Byrne? O my god, that is INCREDIBLE..I’m hubled that you like my work. I wish we could collaborate on something. I have a show coming up in Red Hook in October..maybe we can meet. Ralph

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