correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the “rhythm devils” as the “rhythm kings.” This version has been updated.
Mickey Hart, 75, is most famous for his drumming, namely as one half of “the rhythm devils” with the Grateful Dead. But about 20 years ago, Hart started to paint. He spoke just before his Saturday appearance at the Wentworth Gallery at Tysons Galleria, where his works are displayed, from Dead skulls on canvas to abstract paint pours on drum heads.
Q: What's the connection between painting and drumming, if there is one?
A: It’s the rhythm, stupid. That’s it. The whole universe is based in rhythm, from 13.8 billion years ago, the Big Bang, the singularity, right to your own heartbeat. To your lungs pumping. Your life with your family. It’s all rhythm: eating, sleeping, living life. We know that vibrations are essential for life. But rhythm is controlled vibrations. When I approach a canvas, I am playing.
Q: In music, the jams can last awhile. What's your longest painting session?
A: My longest session? Well, I paint in a frenzy. It’s very intense, very centered, but focused. I’ve gone maybe a day and a half, maybe 20 hours. Maybe one 20-hour session. I go long. I love it long because it takes that long before you get behind the veil, all that stuff you hold. This is improvisational, it’s deep. . . . I’m a desperate man. I will not stop until I exhaust everything.
Q: You came to this late in life and developed into a painter. But how often do you find yourself getting rid of a painting, or does a painting not work?
A: The older I get, the more I understand the language of paints. The more I put away, I don’t let be seen. It’s hard to destroy them really, but they’re away where no one can see them. Hopefully forever. Especially if you’re in an improvisational type of mode. That’s how I function best. There’s a high rate of failure. I’m a 50 percent man myself. If I get 50 percent of what I’m going after, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Because 50 percent of an improvisation, you know, that’s fair odds.