Memoria: Kurt Cobain’s art will soon hit the road in a new traveling exhibition

By on June 26, 2016

Jeffrey Jampol — of JAM Inc., aka Jampol Artist Management, who specialize in handling legacy acts — recently revealed in a New York Times profile piece that he’s been working with new clients Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain (who recently filed for divorce after nearly two years of marriage to musician Isaiah Silva) to put together an authorized traveling exhibition of Kurt Cobain’s “works and his art and his possessions.”

To prime fans for the show, Jampol told the NY Times : “He’s got some amazing canvases that a lot of the world has never seen or even heard of.”

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As noted in Gavin Edwards’ profile on Jampol for the NY Times (June 17, 2016), Love signed over the rights to Cobain’s name and likeness to her daughter in 2010.

Jampol — whose other legacy clients include the estates representing Jim Morrison of the Doors, the Ramones, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and others — says that Cobain’s work is “going to be relevant for centuries.”

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In 2011, Seattle’s Experience Music Project unveiled their massive “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” exhibit, which at the time was the world’s most extensive exhibition of memorabilia celebrating Nirvana’s legacy, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures, some of his works recognizable — like the controversial plastic-fetus collage on the back cover of Nirvana’s In Utero album, and the cover of the band’s Incesticide album — from their prior usage on various Nirvana music releases (that cover art ultimately got the record banned by Wal-Mart).

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Kurt’s painting — used for the front cover of Nirvana’s Incesticide album — featured a large marionette cradling a poppy flower in the crook of an arm, with a small child-like marionette clinging to its shoulder.

“Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” -- included with museum admission and is free for EMP Museum members — lets visitors to the EMP discover for themselves how Nirvana helped develop the underground music scene in Washington state.

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The EMP collection features more than 150 iconic instruments, original poster artwork, photographs, albums, films of performance footage, and 100 new and archived oral histories from important members of Seattle’s so-called grunge music scene (including Nirvana’s Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic), and features three interactive kiosks allow visitors to access information about the band.

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Interviews with leading music producers, journalists and artists from those years in the late 80s to mid 90s play on big screen televisions next to glass cases full of old demo tapes, dirty lumberjack shirts and splintered guitars.

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The first guitar to meet its tragic fate at Kurt Cobain’s hands. It was broken at a college dorm party on Halloween in 1988 where Nirvana was playing a show.

Courtney Love was the co-executive producer on the first authorized documentary on Kurt Cobain, the 2015 film Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, directed by Brett Morgen, which aired on the HBO network, which featured many of Cobain’s original collages, sketches and paintings.

Los Angeles premiere of HBO Documentary Films 'Kurt Cobain: Mont

Frances Bean Cobain and Courtney Love attend the Los Angeles premiere of HBO Documentary Films Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck on April 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California (Quarterflash/Vantage News)

According to a 2015 interview in ArtSpanArt with Robert Hunter, Kurt Cobain’s high school art teacher, the Nirvana frontman excelled in his basic and commercial art classes in his sophomore and junior years at Aberdeen High School, and was even offered an art scholarship to be used after high school, but Cobain passed on it (and also ditched his senior year of school) in order to begin working as a sometime roadie for the local punk band the Melvins.

Cobain moved away from art so he could devote his time to his music, but he never gave up on it entirely.

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“Kurt loved art,” Hunter tol ArtSpantArt. “He was a prolific drawer even after he left high school. His style was somewhat of hard-edge realism with a strong cartoonish bent to it. ”

Hunter said Cobain was mostly quiet in art class, but he enjoyed working with him using the airbrush.

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Cobain’s airbrush illustration of a couple of two aging, Reagan-era punks in the post-apocalypse. Informally known as “Punk American Gothic”

“He seemed to delight in making colorful ‘spider’ forms by spraying compressed air at blobs of ink,” Hunter said. “He also had a distinct fetish for drawing Smurfs. He must have drawn hundreds of these, seen attacking each other with spears and bows and arrows. Most of Kurt’s portfolio was made up of black and white drawings (ink or graphite). The few color pieces he completed were complementary colors, with red/green being favored by him.”

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Hunter adds: “His skills as a young artist were awesome; he could draw very well, plan and complete critique.”

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Jeff Jampol in his West Hollywood, California office (Emily Beri/New York Times)

According to Jampol — who earlier this year gave Night Flight his thoughts on the Ramones’s retrospective exhibition Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk here — the traveling exhibition of Cobain’s works will feature artworks, private possessions, and other items from Cobain’s estate. Details about the touring exhibition have yet to be announced.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.