Drummer Mickey Hart’s name will always conjure up imagery of the Grateful Dead, the ground-breaking, San Francisco-launched act he joined in 1967.
With elements of rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass and country music, and a massive legion of loyal Deadheads as a traveling following, the group launched an ongoing musical movement as the ultimate 20th-century jam band. The Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the year before the death of founding guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia.
Several side projects since include Dead & Company, Hart’s current band with fellow former Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist/vocalist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and bassist/vocalist Oteil Burbridge.
Lesser-known, though impactful, are Hart’s 1991 book and album Planet Drum, the latter of which won him the first of his multiple Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album, plus the handful of books he authored before and since. Hart also engineers ongoing studies of rhythm and vibration, and their impact on diseased and damaged brains, with neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley.
But his upcoming South Florida shows involve another medium that’s hardly a side hustle. For years, visual artwork by Hart (www.mickeyhartfineart.com) has adorned many of the percussion instruments he’s used on stage. Now, the 76-year-old’s colorful, moving pieces will be on display in official presentations at two separate Wentworth Gallery locations this month, with free admission.
Palm Beach ArtsPaper spoke to Hart about his artwork — plus a little music and science — by phone from his home in Sonoma County, Calif.,, in a 15-minute question-and-answer session that practically went in as many directions as the Grateful Dead’s music.
PBAP: You started a literary career (with the 1990 book Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey Into the Spirit of Percussion) well into your musical career. At what point did you start producing your visual artworks?
MH: I started those right after I started writing books. I guess the images I took from my first book, and the research I did regarding the spirit of percussion, were part of my consciousness. So the books have, no doubt, triggered these images. Then I met George Smoot, the astrophysicist and Nobel laureate, who discovered cosmic microwave background radiation 400,000 years this side of the Big Bang. He turned me on to the sounds of the universe, which is a web.
And it all comes back to individual expression in multiple ways. The synergy. It’s how these interconnecting senses work, and how we can interpret them. Most of them, these frequencies; these vibrations, pass over and above us. Many affect us naturally. Some have to be realized as visuals, like visual representations of things I wanted to see on canvas, wood, plexiglass, and other surfaces.
PBAP: Did any other visual artists, in particular, inspire you?
MH: There’s a lot of other art out there that’s inspiring. But I wouldn’t want to name any one artist without naming the others. I’m trying to go someplace different, so I try not to get hooked into anyone else’s work.
PBAP: How long have you been creating the pieces you’ll be presenting in these shows?
MH: Most of these images are relatively new, but there will also be some older works. Just like you grow playing music, you grow in your language of paints. What you do with them; what you bring to the work, and what the work says to you. I’ve been doing this for many years now, so I’ve settled into a very interesting new phase of creating these visuals.
PBAP: You use a lot of color in your works. Do you consider that essential in creating these pieces?
MH: Yes. The world is in color for me, but I also love black and white. All of those shades interest me. These things are rivers, peaks, valleys, animals. There are all kinds of images within these things, because everything is very detailed. I spend a lot of time on detail. It’s all vibrating into existence. After I form the medium, I create it by vibrating the frame. Then I move things into certain positions that I think are appropriate. So all these works are born out of vibration.
I play music almost every day in my home studio, and then sometimes at night, I create these images while my head is still filled with the music. So this can be a change of form, let us say, from music to art. Sound into light, how about that? That’s what’s really happening. A synergy of sound and light.
PBAP: There’s a sense of movement in most of your artworks. Is that the result of rhythm and vibration inspiring them?
MH: Good point, Bill. It’s all rhythmic. The whole thing is a rhythm-scape. And it’s a map, hopefully, to a higher consciousness. Because that’s what this whole thing is about — to raise consciousness. What I hope people take from this is that kind of a feeling. An awakening of consciousness; something they can take home with them, and do something good with that feeling. As an artist, my hope is that these works bring kindness, an understanding of consciousness, and personal power. And we make your own interpretations, which enhances our power.
PBAP: Tell us about the work you do with Dr. Adam Gazzaley.
MH: We’re working on cognitive exercises for those suffering from autism, Alzheimer’s, and dementia in particular. And how they can enhance the experiences of those suffering from those maladies. We create rhythm games for them, and introduce them to musical stimuli. The autistic, in particular, can’t be around loud sounds, so we’ve created sounds and instruments that they do not fear. And Dr. Gazzaley is an amazing resource for that.
PBAP: Can you give us an example among those instruments?
MH: One is a large frame drum, maybe 5-and-a-half feet around. It only plays one note, and that note is really, really low. So the patients relate to it as their heartbeat, or their friend. Music becomes medicine this way.
PBAP: Do you see yourself being a visual artist longer than you’ll be a musician?
MH: That’s a seriously loaded question! The music is what makes me whole. So that’s what I go to. I’m a trained musician, or noise-ician, whichever you want to call it. I’m fine with both. In art, you don’t play with other people. Normally, you paint alone. So you could say that music is of a higher consciousness, because you’re sharing that communal vibe and energy and making conversation musically and psychically.
Of course, we’ve had big parties where everybody paints, too. You hand out paint, say let’s rock and rally the troops, and everyone goes crazy. And they usually come out with something very endearing to take home with them.
If you go
See the artwork of Mickey Hart from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 22 at Wentworth Gallery at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood (800-732-6140), and from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 23 at Wentworth Gallery at the Boca Raton Town Center Mall. (561-338-0804).