Ron Wood Rolls Out His Art

Stone's exhibit includes portraits of Mick, Keith, Lennon, McCartney

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Being able to crank a mean riff in an outfit often called the world's greatest rock & roll band isn't enough for guitarist Ron Wood. In fact, for him, respect as a visual artist is just as important as being a Rolling Stone. Sunday, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, he got plenty of it: About 250 members paid twenty-five dollars a pop for a private preview of the Hall's new exhibit of Wood's paintings and prints -- and a chance to hang with the artist himself.

Wood swept through the fourth-floor exhibit, politely mobbed by fans who had already spent an hour and a half viewing about thirty of his portraits, most of which depict fellow rock stars, past and present: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and, of course, his band mates in the Stones. Though the buzz was that Mick, Keith and Charlie, already in town for Monday's concert at Gund Arena, might also show, only Ron and his wife, Josephine -- and a large entourage -- eventually appeared.

As he squeezed through the crowd, eyeing the prints of his drawings and etchings, plus a few oil-on-canvas originals, Wood answered questions and at one point grabbed a fan's cell phone to say hello to the person on the other end. Though security guards insisted he wasn't signing autographs, he scribbled out several just before he left.

Passing the enormous oil of his wife, he grabbed her and jokingly told her to stand in front of it for comparison. Someone asked how long she had to pose for the portrait, and they both laughed as she answered, "He can draw me by heart!"

The same might be said of his band mates, captured in all phases of their careers since Wood joined them in the mid-Seventies. But Wood says he usually works from sketches and photographs. In a written comment next to a print titled "Mick III, 1991," Wood notes, "Mick's really difficult to draw because his face is really hard to catch." Elsewhere, he humorously notes that capturing Keith is easy, because he's usually asleep.

Wood got into rock star portraiture as a way to get his foot in the art-world door. "And then I could develop," he explained. "I paint animals and landscapes or buildings. It doesn't matter. I do enjoy drawing people. Bob Dylan's got an interesting face. I enjoy doing him." But he added that the work he's most proud of -- a portrait of Muhammed Ali -- isn't in the exhibit.

Curator Jim Henke later explained that he chose to focus on Wood's musical subjects because, after all, it is the Rock Hall. He also observed, "(Wood) has an insight that's different from what a regular artist has because he's a musician himself."

In addition to Wood's artwork -- which can command anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 for an original -- the exhibit walls contain several prominently placed quotes. "I would love to have nothing to do but paint," reads one. "When I really get grabbed by it, there's nothing I can do. I just have to drop everything."

Wood's not thinking of putting down his guitar for a brush, however. "[Painting] is always something you can do," he explained, "as well as the band. I see us rocking on into even older age. As we're getting better all the time, it'd be a shame to stop now."

Though he's not depicted among Wood's portraits, the exhibit also contains a memorial to Wood's longtime guitar tech, Royden "Chuch" Magee, who died July 18th during a band rehearsal. Considered "the world's most famous roadie," according to crewmate Johnny Starbuck, Magee, the Stones' first crew member, had been asked several times to donate his large work trunk to the museum. Sunday, the worn, battered case full of drawers containing everything from guitar strings to Mick's throat lozenges, went on display, along with photos and personal effects. Magee, who worked with Wood since his Faces days and also served as Charlie Watts' drum tech, collapsed from a heart attack. The case he fell on is also displayed, with a marker inscribed, "Chuch's last resting place." On it sits one of the many band rehearsal set lists hung as part of the exhibit. Under a half-finished list is written, "Chuch Magee, 1947-2002. Dead End."

Starbuck, who worked with Magee since 1975 and is now his replacement, said the case, emblazoned with a large lick logo, is only on loan to the hall. Though he admitted, "I raided it," he noted the crew has carried it with them since Magee's death, and added, "We're keeping it. It belongs to the Rolling Stones. I want it to stay in the family."

The exhibit closes November 15th.