2005-08-11 / Front Page

It’s showtime for the ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Painter’

Making likenesses of famous artists strikes a chord for area man

Staff Writer

PHOTOSBYJENNIFER AMATOPHOTOSBYJENNIFER AMATO James Brown, Elvis Presley, Sid Vicious and Liza Minnelli are all in a room together in North Brunswick. However, they are all dressed in oil paint.

Phillip Baker, 36, South Brunswick, is the North Brunswick Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Services’ [DPRCS] Artist of the Month. He is presenting his paintings of the history of rock ’n’ roll at the Gallery of Art throughout August.

“I want to do this for the fans of rock ’n’ roll, people who appreciate music. That’s why I do what I do,” he said.

Guitar great Les Paul
Guitar great Les Paul Baker has been painting since he was a child. Although he has no formal art training and has said he was constantly encouraged to give up art and start a career elsewhere, in 1991 he made a New Year’s resolution to pick up paint brushes and never stop.

“I woke up one day and had paintings all over my house. ... I couldn’t move around,” he said.

In 1993 he attended a concert at Giants Stadium and set up 20 of his paintings like a tailgate party. He put music on and 20 minutes later there were 100 people looking at the paintings.

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin “What better place? There were more eyeballs at Giant Stadium than any other gallery. I got more attention than I thought I would,” he said.

Baker decided to embark on the art trail, displaying his paintings in parks, coffeehouses and galleries. His goal was to share the artwork with the public and the artists themselves.

“I paint rock ’n’ roll because it’s a lifestyle and because I love it. But most importantly, I do it because music has moved me, changed me and even helped me through life’s ups and downs. ... So, I thank the musicians by painting them. In return, I derive great pleasure when I present my work to them and I see them smile. That’s when I know I’ve captured them on canvas,” he said.

The Beatles’ John Lennon with Yoko Ono
The Beatles’ John Lennon with Yoko Ono While painting Roger Daltrey of The Who on the streets of New York one day, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith got out of his limousine and dubbed Baker “The Rock ’n’ Roll Painter,” according to Baker. “What’s up? Hey, Rock ’n’ Roll Painter, you’re all over the place,” Baker said Tyler would say to him every time he saw him.

However, Baker’s most memorable encounter was with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. According to Baker, when he saw the singer with Jerry Hall at The Bottom Line in New York, he thanked Jagger for his influence. Jagger replied, “Stop it — I want to thank you. I understand the time, the creativity. ... I want to thank you.”

Inside the nightclub, Hall recognized Baker and Jagger said, “Hello, Phillip.” At 4 a.m., Baker had a flat tire on his truck. Still elated from meeting Jagger the first time, who comes out of the club to help him but the legend himself?

“He told his two ... bodyguards, ‘He needs help,’ ” Baker said.

Yet not every celebrity is so accommodating. Baker said that he gives three strikes before giving up on obtaining the signature of an artist, and Little Richard, Ringo Starr, and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant have reached their limit.

However, about five minutes after Robert Plant denied Baker any attention outside of a hotel in SoHo, Bo Diddley was walking around Washington Square Park before his performance that night.

“We were walking around the park feeding pigeons,” Baker said. “He said to me, ‘Those English boys have big heads on their shoulders.’ We spoke for about an hour and 20 minutes ... Screw that Robert Plant guy, Bo Diddley is the man.”

Although Baker seeks out artists to share his appreciation, he has never sold an autographed painting for fear the artists would think he has an ulterior motive for asking for their signature.

“The Boss [Bruce Springsteen] said, ‘Don’t you ever sell that; it’s the biggest I’ve ever written my name,’ ” Baker said. “The big satisfaction, the best part of the package is when I show the artist the painting. That’s the biggest thanks. I painted it, I met them, they signed it, they loved it.”

Baker has completed about 15 pop-art style paintings of Alice Cooper and several of KISS. He has also portrayed Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Police, Pat Benatar, Elvira, the Munsters cast, Cindy Crawford, Ricky Martin, Prince and Madonna, to name a few celebrities, as well as his friends in bands and his son’s karate teacher. Of his 300 paintings, about 180 are autographed.

During his painting period, Baker only listens to the music of the artist he is painting.

“I must feel them through their music and then the paintbrush sizzles,” he said.

Baker is influenced by western artist Gregory Perillo and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. Judith Wray, president of the Visual Arts League in East Brunswick, has been a tremendous help in securing shows.

“She doesn’t know my art and doesn’t like it, but she understands I’m serious about my art,” he said.

He also said North Brunswick has given him a wonderful opportunity.

“Thank you for giving [to] not just local artists but artists in general. ... Hats off to Greg [Kikelhan, deputy director of the DPRCS]. Without people like him, we wouldn’t be showing,” he said.

Nowadays, Baker’s work has been put somewhat on hold due to his 8-year-old twins, Dylan, named after Bob Dylan, and Jessica, named after Jesse James.

“I turned down the flame a little bit because my kids need me. I need to be daddy while they still need daddy. I’m just dad,” he said.

“I raise my kids with culture,” he said. “I’m always looking for something to do ... I look to turn kids onto art. I’d like to start my own art school. I like to pass the torch on ... [so] kids get it into their blood forever. You [have to] give back somehow.”

In the future, Baker hopes to create a rock ’n’ roll art diary, featuring his paintings and chronicling the story behind each picture. Posthumously, he would like his paintings donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio and one each to various Hard Rock Cafes.

“The positive message is to believe in yourself. The ones who say you can’t are the ones that never will,” he said. “Twenty years later, I have Mick Jagger saying thank you [to me].”

Opening night of the gallery will be Monday, Aug. 22 from 6:30-8 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. Call (732) 247-0922 ext. 475 for more details. The paintings are currently on display at the Municipal Building, 710 Hermann Road. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

To contact Baker, call (732) 407-3916 or e-mail phill@rocknrollart.com.

The King and I: Artist of the Month Phillip Baker stands next to his painting of Elvis Presley titled “Blue Suede Shoes.”

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