The American singer-songwriter Don Van Vliet (AKA Captain Beefheart) might be best known for fronting the eclectic, experimental music group ‘The Magic Band’, but following its explosive end in 1982, Van Vliet turned to painting.
In many ways, he was returning to his roots; Van Vliet had been a sculptor in his youth, his tutor thought he was a child prodigy. In later life, he recalled being so obsessed by sculpting that his parents had been forced to feed him through the door of his studio. He even claimed to be related to a 17th-century Dutch painter named Peter van Vliet, a contemporary of Rembrandt. That said, Van Vliet was a notorious self-mythologiser, you had to take everything he said with a pinch of salt.
Whatever the truth, his paintings speak for themselves. They’re no-nonsense. Like his voice they’re raw and rough. They recall the fervent, febrile atmosphere of 20th-century America; everything was new, the world was there for the taking, and anyone could make it.
A number of Van Vliet’s works are on display in the exhibition ‘Standing on One Hand’ at Michael Werner Gallery, London. To accompany the exhibition catalogue, the gallery commissioned a creative response from Charlie Fox – artist, curator, author of This Young Monster (Fitzcarraldo Editions), and contributor to Artforum, Dazed, 032c, The Paris Review and The New York Times. Read an extract of Fox’s essay below.