Wentworth Gallery in the Boca Raton Town Center Mall bears little resemblance to the venues where San Francisco-launched act the Grateful Dead cultivated its following of Deadheads, a throng that grew between formation of the band in 1965 and the death of founding guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia in 1995.
But former Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s forays into visual art necessitate such newer realms.
Hart’s opening at the Wentworth on Nov. 23 drew roughly 100 people to the small, brightly lit rectangular room, located between Bloomingdale’s and the mall food court, with the bulk appearing during the first hour.
The artist and drummer — who joined the Dead in 1967 and helped launch it to stardom via appearances at venues like the Fillmore in San Francisco and festivals like Woodstock in New York — started near-simultaneous additional careers as an author (of what’s now a handful of books) and painter nearly 30 years ago.
Many of the 76-year-old’s colorful, moving creations sold during the presentation (as they had the previous night at another South Florida Wentworth location, at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood). Prices on the mostly-untitled, abstract expressionist originals ranged from $4,395 for a framed multimedia work on canvas to $55,050 for an unframed acrylic one on masonite.
The percussive artist describes his visuals as representing “rivers, peaks, valleys, animals,” with their perceived movement partially the result of the rhythms and vibrations inherent in his percussive work, and through his studies on the brain with neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley. A few additional works featured colorful skeletons, an image favored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted Grateful Dead.
The Wentworth crowd was largely made up of baby boomers, some former hippies wearing Dead-approved tie dye; others adorned in blazers and evening wear, enjoying the ample glasses of red and white wine lined up by the gallery. Most were in the back, where a partition indicated Hart would be speaking upon arrival. Others were up front, where the most colorful, eye-catching pieces were located, including some of the artistic drum heads Hart has featured on his array of percussion instruments with post-Grateful Dead acts like Planet Drum or Dead & Company.
“You’re going to see a real rock star tonight,” a father said to his young, smiling daughter in a stroller at 7 p.m.
But as the crowd grew in anticipation, the waiting proved to be the hardest part for her. By the time Hart finally made his appearance at 7:35 p.m., the young girl’s patience had worn thin. As her mother alternated between apologetic glances and attempts to cover her daughter’s mouth, she either wailed or talked through the undaunted Hart’s brief greeting and question-and-answer session.
“This is what my side of the world looks like,” Hart said. “I usually play music by day and then paint at night. I use acrylic; I use oil, and I also use wash, which is a gum arabic-based paint. Some of these works are on canvas, some on plastic, and some on wood. I use multiple layers when I paint, and at some stage during the process, I try to vibrate the painting itself to allow things to come up through it, and result in these beautiful details. All of them have rhythm, and you’ll see a lot of things in these paintings. I hope you like them. Any questions?”
“What was your inspiration?” a gentleman asked.
“Well, I kind of just fell into painting,” Hart said. “One thing led to another, and I started to understand the language of paints, and what I wanted to do with them. Because you have to understand that language, and there’s no book to read on the subject.”
“Did you ever discuss art with Jerry [Garcia] before he passed away?” another man asked.
“Oh yes,” Hart said. “Jerry used to draw artistic doodles all the time. In the early days, he had a pad, and would just draw them and give them away. But the doodles turned into his style, and he really turned into quite an artist. Jerry had a flair and a flow. It was a rhythm thing for him as well.”