‘Nervous and Excited’: Pearl Jam Guitarist Mike McCready Talks About His First Art Show

The renowned guitarist is putting aside fear and embracing a new artistic medium.

Musician Mike McCready plays the United States national anthem at the Match For Africa 4 exhibition match at KeyArena on April 29, 2017, in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images.

It’s hard to imagine that someone with more than 25 years experience playing lead guitar for one of the world’s top-selling bands would be intimidated at the prospect of an art gallery show.

But longtime Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, who fans know as a major force behind singles such as “Alive” and “Glorified G,” acknowledges that his first foray into the visual arts is taking him beyond his comfort zone.

On March 22, he and artist Kate Neckel open a collaborative art and music show at the Winston Wächter gallery in Seattle. So how exactly does he feel? “Nervous and excited,” he told artnet News. “But more excited.”

Infinite Color & Sound (Kate Neckles and Mike McCready). Photo: Chris Adams.

Infinite Color & Sound (Kate Neckel and Mike McCready). Photo: Chris Adams.

McCready met Neckel after his wife saw her artwork at the recent Seattle Art Fair and commissioned a major piece. Neckel, a former New Yorker now based in Seattle, has long been inspired by some of her favorite bands and musicians. She has even worked with David Byrne as an art assistant, and collaborated with the Brooklyn-based band Honduras. And now, with McCready’s support, she is learning guitar, honing her vocal skills, and writing songs.

The two initially discussed doing a project loosely modeled on Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of 1970s multimedia events. But even with precedents in place, there’s still a learning curve. “We’re both learning these things that we don’t know how to do,” McCready says.

The duo have dubbed themselves Infinite Color and Sound, and their Seattle show is titled “Sway” in homage to a favorite song from the Rolling Stones’s album Sticky Fingers. Currently, there are about half dozen large canvases completed along with numerous drawings and original songs that will feature in the show.

Infinite Color & Sound, <i>Circular Vision</i> (2019). Photo: Jim Bennett.

Infinite Color & Sound, Circular Vision (2019). Photo: Jim Bennett.

“I was always fascinated by painters and artists in other mediums,” says McCready, whose mother was an art teacher and who introduced him to artists like Vincent van Gogh, David Hockney, and Monet. He cites Laurie Anderson’s song “O Superman” as a good example of “mixing worlds.”

But McCready says he never really pursued visual art. “I never had the confidence to put a paintbrush to paper or draw because I just felt like I wasn’t good at it,” he says. “That kept me stifled in terms of creativity. Guitar is something I was used to.” (He first picked up the instrument when he was 11.)

He and Neckel are also working with a vocal teacher on harmonies and breathing. (The exhibition includes two sold-out performances.) “We’re serious about it,” he says. “Even though this is something I’ve done a little with my band, I need to learn in terms of other things, like writing lyrics, which Kate does very well. It’s cool to see someone learning how it all works in terms of making a song for the first time.”

Neckel, whose drawings have been featured in publications including Vogue, Vanity Fair, InStyle, O, Fast Company, and GQ, has also created commissions for Hudson Studios, Cole Haan, and the Ace Hotel. While she has been expanding the handful of guitar chords she already knew, she has also been focusing more on lyrics, singing, and bringing ideas to McCready. “He opens it up on a whole other level and brings it to life on the guitar,” Neckel says. “It’s the most exciting thing.”

Infinite Color & Sound, <i>Colliding Muses</i> (2019). Photo: Jim Bennett.

Infinite Color & Sound, Colliding Muses (2019). Photo: Jim Bennett.

Asked what parallels he sees between music and fine art, McCready says with guitar playing, “generally the first take, that’s the one, and I don’t think about it too much. I feel like that’s how I’m painting too, by doing the first thing in my head or creating music to what [Kate] is painting, how her hand is moving, or the line she’s creating. I can’t think stuff out because if I do that, then it becomes forced and doesn’t have a soul to it.”

On the other hand, he says he recently bought a book on how to draw a nose. “I probably never would have bought that book before,” he says with a laugh.

Asked about the takeaways from creating their first show, McCready says he didn’t realize that four months is not a standard amount of time for an entirely new body of work. “Maybe next time,” he says, “we’ll take a year.”

Sway: Infinite Color & Sound” will be at Winston Wächter Fine Art, 203 Dexter Avenue, Seattle, from March 22 through May 18.

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