Artists are rarely limited to one form of creative expression. Each creative outlet may be inspired by the same place, but a singular outlet is rarely enough. As he heads toward his debut art exhibit, Slipknot drummer Jay Weinberg took the time to sit down with us to discuss his creative endeavors outside of bashing the drums on stage.
The explosive energy required in drumming may make painting seem almost far-fetched for Weinberg. Oil painting specifically requires hours of investment and a delicate hand to complete one piece, very different from your typical Slipknot performance.
“It’s super different,” Jay explains his roots and attraction to the more pensive art world. “And that’s what I needed. I’ve always been drawn to all forms of creative expression, ever since I was a kid. I would always carry a sketchbook with me. Traveling with my family a lot, when I was younger, starting when I was around 6 years old, I had a very artistically minded family. Very musical family. I’m really fortunate in that regard. So we would always go to museums and galleries and stuff. I started to get switched onto music and art at a very early age so I would always carry a sketchbook with me. And I would copy paintings that I liked that I saw at museums and, eventually, when I started to become familiar with movies and stuff, I began creating Star Wars-y comic book strips of my own design. I’d make story arcs of video game characters that I was super into as a little kid. Like any kid that has a creative itch but doesn’t really know why.
But then music took hold of me when I was a teenager and that was all I wanted to do. That took over everything in my life. I dedicated myself completely to that when it took hold of me. I started playing drums when I was 14 and that was everything I did. I started touring in a professional capacity when I was about 18. I had been touring in my high school bands up until then, but when I started college, I started touring around the clock, while doing college at the same time. And I got a lot out of that creatively and artistically. And I still do, obviously.
But I was entering my 20s. And, as anybody entering their 20s goes through, just becoming an adult person, there’s so much of life that is happening. There’s so much to process in that space in time. Especially for me being thrust into a life of constant travel and touring and performing, and getting used to that and all the complexities that life has, even separate from music. Once I started doing that, I felt that the music, even though I was investing myself completely and trying to empty myself onto the drum set every night, I felt like, after a while, what I got out of it every night was kind of diminishing returns. I would come off stage feeling like I had a lot left to say. Which was new for me, because I always felt like beating the shit out of the drums, it allowed me to say everything that I needed to say: creatively, artistically, emotionally. But at a certain point, it felt like I needed more…I needed something else. And I found that to be that I needed something that was different than pouring all of my intense energy into these gnarly performances night after night. I needed something to counter balance that, something that was more meditative, more of a slow burn, rather than a quick shotgun blast of energy. I needed something that centered me more, but I didn’t know what that was.”
A chance meeting changed Jay’s life with regard to his art. “I had a really good stroke of fortune meeting my teacher, her name is Michelle Doll,” he reminisces. “I went to school where I did because it was so close to New York City and I wanted to be surrounded by art and creativity. So I was in New York or Brooklyn every night absorbing all the creativity that I could. So I happened to meet an amazing oil painter, Michelle Doll, on this art walk and she was offering lessons out of her studio. And I was like “This could be a really good outlet for me. Maybe this is what I’ve been looking for.” To learn how to express myself in a different way that takes a lot more time, a lot more of a different kind of energy than I’m used to expending when I’m performing musically.
So I took that instinct and through working with my teacher, I had a lot of stuff that I wanted to work through emotionally, just emotional baggage that I had built up over my life that I wanted to get out of my head and my heart that I wasn’t getting out through music. So that was in the fall of 2012, and so I started to really find my passion for oil painting specifically. I had always made art and done collage work and abstract stuff, but never sitting down and studying anatomy and the human form and how expressive that can be. And how emotionally driven you can make art when you’re channeling it through that. And how oil painting with the building up of layers of paint and really taking your time with it; spending tens of not hundreds of hours on any given piece. That gave me this whole new landscape to work with and it was really meaningful to me. Especially during a time when I was trying to decipher things in my life and my relationships with people in my life and I just needed to get it out of my system in a new way. So I found oil painting and I pursued that and it just kept going and going until I built up this body of work, which I’m now, 8 years later, I’m finally comfortable to show the world.”
Oil painting is one of the hardest mediums to work with. Technically, oil paint never dries; it oxidizes and the linseed oil converts to linoleic acid, which is a solid. The slow drying time and level of commitment to finish a piece is vastly different from acrylic, watercolor or gouache paints. It takes a level of patience and delicacy not typically associated with explosive metal musicians. But fellow painters in the New York City area captured Jay’s attention.
“Moving to be right next to New York City was really important to me and I found a community of artists that were older than me and I became inspired by a boutique gallery called The Cotton Candy Machine. It is run by an amazing artist named Tara McPherson and her partner Sean Leonard. They would have monthly, or twice a month, art shows that featured amazing New York City based artists like Thomas Hooper, David M. Cook, Camille Rose Garcia, and I became so enamored with these artists. Skinner would show there, Buff Monster would show there and I would get to go to all these gallery openings. And I became enamored with a new way of taking in visual art than I had before. Because to me, it had always been going to museums to see these larger than life characters. Like you’re going to see Picasso or Gauguin, Rodin, or Monet or Manet. It seemed like stuff from a different planet, it didn’t seem like stuff that was happening in my own backyard. So, when I got to see the works of these people who were living concurrently with me in the same kind of area, it made it feel more realistic to me. I felt like this stuff spoke to my soul as a creative person. And it was a whole new avenue that I had never seen for myself.
So specifically meeting Michelle was huge for me. I look up to the artists that I mentioned and people like Jake Bannon and John Baisley, who are also in bands and are incredible artists as well, who work a lot with the human form and the expressive nature of that. I found a lot of inspiration in that, but I didn’t really know where to start. I hadn’t tried to do something that was my own spin on what was inspiring me, until I found Michelle’s work. Michelle’s work spoke to me on a level that was just so expressive and so painterly. Really, she captures such an emotion in her work, it's very visceral and very intense, but also very still and focused and deliberate. I found so much of her work really spoke to me and the fact that she was opening her doors to me and was like “Let me teach you how to paint,” it was the opportunity that I was looking for.”
Even though Jay is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a level of vulnerability meeting in his own creative champions. “I often shudder when I meet my artistic heroes, and I’m fortunate to have been able to meet a lot of them and become friends with them, but I shudder to talk to them about their process. I get kind of embarrassed and try to learn a little bit about that and try to apply it to my own creativity.
So the fact that here’s someone who is really inspirational, who I really admire her work, and she’s opening her door like “Let’s collaborate,” that was really important to me. It made me feel not embarrassed, because I was just starting out and I didn’t know how to learn all this stuff.”
Like most artists, Jay has used both music and art as a cathartic escape. “I didn’t go to school for anything artistically related,” he explains. “I went to school completely independently from that. People always ask me if I went to school for drums or music, but I never went to any kind of institution for that because I always felt like the art and music that I’m making has to come from my soul and my heart, and you can’t really teach that. Yeah, you can teach technicality and fundamentals, but I didn’t want to go to school for that because I did music to get away from school.”
“But when you’re learning things about painting the human form and trying to find expressive ways to do that, you can’t just, I mean maybe some freaks of nature can teach themselves to do that, but I certainly couldn’t. I needed help and I found a great friend and guide in Michelle. It was simultaneously taking painting lessons and also telling her “Here’s why I want to do this.” So that it doesn’t have to live up in my head, it can live on a wall and then I can move beyond that emotionally and artistically. Which was really important to me at the time for what I felt like was survival. I felt like I needed to create this stuff to survive in my own head and in my own body and she was down to help me through that. It was really awesome because it was learning the ropes and learning how to paint, while simultaneously working through what I felt was a meaningful body of work. It wasn’t doing exercises for the sake of doing exercises. I was doing these exercises to create something emotionally connected to me and get something off my chest.”
“So for the longest time, that’s how I’ve been circling around this work, “A Hollow Realm”, has been in an effort to connect with myself and share these things that I don’t really get to share when I’m smashing on the drums. It's a completely different thing. It's all on me. I’m not collaborating with anyone and it's very nerve wracking. You put yourself in a vulnerable position when you take away all of those other layers. I feel like, especially in a band like Slipknot, I’m protected by this huge thing that’s all volume and sound and intensity and aggression, that is like a shield that I get to put on myself. And painting is to completely strip away that shield and really step out of that shell and become very vulnerable. I feel like this is a new comfortable way for me to express this stuff.”
“A Hollow Realm” has been 8 years in the making and, for many creatives, there comes this point where you struggle to find when something is “done”.
“I feel like when I start a painting, I chase what I’m looking for in my head. And I keep working at it and keep working at it, and it’ll seem like it's finished, but I won't feel in my heart that it's done. And I feel like a lot of artists feel this way, but at some point you have to just be like 'Fuck it! I’m gonna kill myself mentally agonizing over every tiny little detail.' And that’s been a huge exercise in itself, knowing when something is done and I have to take myself away from it."
“I feel like when I’m painting, I visualize this loading bar, where you’re 10% finished, 50% finished, 75% finished and then when you get closer and closer to that finish line it gets so much slower. It takes forever to get from that 99% to 100%. But every piece that I’ve made I just knew to my absolute core, that when I stepped away and it was 100%, I made this active decision of “That’s it.” I call it when the painting shows its face. When it can’t run away from you anymore and that’s where it is. I’ve actively made this decision to put my brushes down and I don’t touch it anymore.”
“And in a larger sense that’s what I felt with the whole body of work. I had one piece, the title piece in the show, that I felt really conveyed a lot of what I was going for. This mysterious figure with this occult vibe set in complete darkness. That’s not all that’s in the show, but I felt like that really captured a lot of what many of the pieces were trying to convey. This connection with the viewer, this intense gaze that is looking right through you. I felt like that was getting to be the period on the end of this sentence. And I decided I wanted another piece that was the opposite of that. Because that was very fire based I decided I wanted a water based counterpoint to that so they would work really nicely together. Another piece the same dimensions as that, another figure coming out of complete darkness and having them work together.”
“I was thinking “Once I do that piece, then it’s going to be done, because that’s all I want to say with all these pieces.” I felt like I had finally come to a point, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, that I'm done talking about it to myself. I’m done talking about these paintings to myself and communicating this heavy emotional stuff that I’m going through and I’ve got it all on canvas and I’m ready to show that.”
It begs to be reiterated that while Jay steps onto a massive stage as part of one of the biggest metal collectives in the game nightly, this new endeavor is a whole new level of vulnerability that taps into a differently avenue of creativity that he hasn’t explored to this level before. No mask. No drum kit, no stage risers. No pyro. Just Jay, and his vision lay bare on the gallery wall for the world to finally see.
“Whenever you come out with something new and exciting, it's kind of scary and daunting as well. You’re sharing a part of yourself that’s never been seen before. With my musical endeavors, and with how I’ve pushed myself in that regard, I feel like there’s a lot more eyes on me than I did when I started this body of work. When I started emotionally processing this stuff, there were a lot less eyes on me than there are now. So, knowing that is a little bit daunting and pretty scary, but I feel like I’m proud of the work. I’m really happy that it converts what I want it to convery and I’ve made the body of work that I set out to make.
I feel, much like I do with music, that you create stuff in such a vacuum. You create stuff completely in isolation and I don’t really consider it fully finished until it's out there in the world making connections with other people. That’s so much of what art is. It’s not only that you’re connecting with yourself, but you’re connecting with other people, trying to have a better realization of your own humanity and how it connects with other people. That’s when the artwork is done, when you set it free into the world to live its own life. And I’m ready for that now.”
When channeling emotional energy into a piece of work, it seems to depend more on the time and place, rather than the emotion itself, whether something is channeled into music or a physical piece of art. “When you're in the midst of it, and you feel a buildup of lots of things, good and bad, and you have all this stuff inside you that you wanna get out,” Jay elaborates.
“It all comes from the same place. I kind of have this blind abandon of throwing myself into what I’m doing. It could be that I’m extremely pissed off and I'm going to focus that energy into what I’m working on at the moment. By nature, my whole life, I’ve always been a “burning the candle at both ends” kind of person. I’m never happy unless I’m completely stressed out creatively. I always need a million irons in the fire. Which is a great place to be. It's probably unfortunate for those around me, but its a great place to be in terms of having things to throw yourself into. That’s all said to illustrate, say I’m working on music at the time, and throwing myself into that, like this new Slipknot record, that’s a lot of concerted energy. You’re throwing your whole life into that. Whatever’s left over, is what I feel that I can channel into the next thing that’s on my dashboard. Once I’m done with that, it’s kind of arbitrary, but I had the toy taken away from me and now I’m left with idle hands. If I still feel like I have things going on in my life, in my head or in my soul that I still need to get out there, I’ll turn to another outlet that I have.”
Jay has surrounded himself with like minded artists, who bring their creativity out in many different forms. “I admire people who are multidisciplinary, who play music and do art,” he states. “I’m fortunately surrounded by people like that, even within our band. There are people who are multidisciplinary who, when they’re done contributing to Slipknot, they go off into their own world to do other things. I’m quite inspired by that, and I’m really lucky to be in a larger community of people who do that. And we share all our ideas and we talk and everybody has their own little thing.”
“And that’s the community I’ve been searching for my whole life, since I was a kid. This all started because I felt like I didn’t connect to the outside world. I wasn’t a jock, I wasn’t a prep, I didn’t fit in. So I turned to art and music where I did fit in. And the community, especially intense, emotionally-driven music and art is a life-long pursuit for a lot of us and we pour a lot of ourselves into it.”
Being a drummer, comes with certain perks of being able to artistically express yourself, without being too vulnerable. With “A Hollow Realm,” Jay strips all that away.
“It’s easier as a drummer to pour a lot of emotional intensity into that instrument without giving away a lot of anything. You don’t really give that much of a window into your life. It’s both incredibly artistically rewarding, but also feels like a safe place where I don’t have to reveal too much of this stuff. Whereas with painting it's the exact opposite. It's completely out there. It’s all cloaked in metaphor and artistic choices, but it certainly feels like I’m exposing a lot more of myself than I ever have before. This is my first body of work like this and I’m really happy to finally get it out there.”
Jay hopes that “A Hollow Realm” will help to inspire the next generation, the way the New York City, and more classical, artists inspired him to find his passion within painting. “I feel such a kinship with certain pieces of art. Like I can’t imagine my life without seeing this piece of art by that person. You feel that emotional tie to it. It’s part of that artistic experience. And when you’re searching for that connection and you want to see that somebody feels the same way you might. Or maybe it gives you a different thought on your own life. I’ve had that moment so many times when I go see art in person. For example, whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to be in Oslo, Norway, I like going to the Edvard Munch museum. I’m a huge fan. He’s one of my favorite artists. And the first time I went, it was so impactful for me, which is why I keep going back. It made a bee-line right to my heart to the point where it’s embedded in my memory, in how I see art, how I listen to music. It all informs how we, as a global community, experience life.”
“I can’t imagine my life without Vampire, Death in the Sick Room, or The Scream and that’s just one artist that I feel connected to. All those artists I spoke about before, I can’t imagine my life without them, without that connection. I hope to establish that connection. These are touchstones with me and my way of expressing my life and things that I went through. They all circle around a theme of deep connection and deep isolation. I think that’s stuff that everyone can relate to. I feel like this is my opportunity to share my story. What I hope for anyone who goes to check it out is they view it and find some connection with their own life.”
For those unable to make it to Los Angeles for the exhibit, Jay thought of you as well. “I decided to do my debut exhibition in Los Angeles, because that’s where so much of my activity is based and where so many of my peers are that it was an easy decision. But I knew that only people who would be able to get to Los Angeles would be able to experience it and I didn’t want it to be landlocked to being in this one location on this specific night. And while I do hope that people will come out, I’m very excited to be working with an amazing group called Optic Nerve who build out these virtual landscapes where you get to really build out a more fantastical world for these pieces. So it’s not only going to be a physical showing of these paintings, but it’s also going to be this digital landscape that people can check out on that day at ahollowrealm.com and it will be something where you can walk around and be in this wild landscape. So on the day of the art show, whether you’re in Los Angeles and can make it to the event itself, or you’re in Brazil, Japan, or the United Kingdom, it will be a virtual world where you can attend this art exhibit opening from anywhere. I’m really excited about that.”
What is insane is this art exhibit came close to not even happening, so if you can attend in person, or log on, be sure to. "Back in March of 2020, a tornado devastated East Nashville, where I used to live (fortunately not when it hit). I lived near the Jerry’s Artarama on that side of town, so that was where I would to go get all my art supplies. Before I left for Slipknot’s last European tour in January 2020, I went to store most of this entire body of work there. I got home from that tour in late February. Before I could go pick my paintings up, the tornado destroyed the entire front of building, where they were being kept unstretched in shipping tubes. I thought all of my work had been completely destroyed, but the tubes miraculously got caught under a table that ended up protecting them from the tornado. I walked into the store the day after the storm, and the front room was turned upside down, but thankfully my paintings didn’t get damaged at all. Completely insane."
For artists looking to find their footing in the creative world, Jay had this bit of advice: "The biggest piece of advice I would give to young or aspiring artists is to enjoy the process of creation, and to not give up when you encounter artistic challenges. It's going to happen…often…and likely at the worst possible times. It's all part of it. It’s how you take on those creative obstacles that defines how you progress as an artist, no matter what field you’re in. Create art that speaks to you, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The more you put your true self into your work, the more connected you feel to what you’re making. And you never know, maybe someone out there will connect to it on the level that you do. You’ll never find out until you try. That’s true magic-making."
I’m sure those of you who are fans of my interviews are waiting with bated breath for the answer to life’s most important question. So what is Jay’s favorite dinosaur? “My favorite dinosaur has always been the velociraptor. I have a great photo of myself that my parents took. I went to a Jeff Beck concert and was fortunate to meet Jeff Beck, but I didn’t know who Jeff Beck was when I was 4 years old, haha! But I have this picture of me standing with him and I’m wearing this awesome velociraptor shirt, it just had velociraptors all over it. So I’ve always been obsessed with them. There is this really cool exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles that details velociraptors. What a great dinosaur.”
“A Hollow Realm”, Jay Weinberg’s debut solo art exhibition, takes place on July 7, 2022 at 6PM at Rampart Studios Gallery located at 2520 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. You can RSVP here to attend. If you cannot attend in person, be sure to visit ahollowrealm.com on July 7th to experience a fully-immersive virtual gallery experience, created in collaboration with Optic Nerve.