The hidden face of genius: the paintings of Miles Davis

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“My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

“Music and life are all about style.”

Miles Davis

No doubt, Miles Davis had style. A key figure of Jazz and popular music, Davis belongs to the best musicians of the twentieth century. He wasn’t a virtuoso, that wasn’t part of his style, but he was a genius. Trumpeter, composer, mentor for future generations, a public figure with enormous influence, and lastly, a painter. You got it right: painter.

His love for painting is one of the lesser known features of Miles Davis. It was born as a mere recreation during the 50s, and it strengthened when it decides to take a “break from music”, in 1975. Painting was a therapy for Miles, helping him cope with the post-stroke period, and as he himself stated in his autobiography: “Art keeps my mind occupied with something when I’m not playing music.”

The inspiration for his paintings comes from Kandinsky, Basquiat, Picasso, tribal art. His style is sharp, bold, with bright colors on dark backgrounds that seem to want to escape from the canvas. Initially, dunring the interviews, Davis used to show his art with pride, taking a brush and a sheet and painting in front of the interviewer, getting inspired by the dialogues or what surrounded him. His art makes the big debut in 1983, the year of Star People, the album that made him reach the fourth place in the American Jazz albums ranking. That album inspired him. He painted the cover.

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The cover of Star People (1983)

This graphic work seeks to remark what he expressed with his music in the 60s: the rhythm of the Africans, that thing which was the starting point of everything, a concept placed at the center of his paintings and his music. Miles was self-taught, and despite the success of his first graphic “composition”, he decided to take lessons: his teacher was Jo Gelbard, the woman who taught him the basic techniques of painting and then became his companion.

The decades of the 80s-90s, the last of his life, had the most intense art production. He began organizing exhibitions, painting continuously and playing. In 1989 he released the album Amandla, and a painting created together with Jo was used as cover. It’s a self-portrait that – together with music – wants to show to the world the skills of a genius. A free mind, who knows how to adapt itself. A person who placed painting at the center of his life.

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The cover of Amandla (1989)

Freedom is the main meaning that revolves around the album, and you get it already from the title: “Amandla” is a Zulu word that means power, used as a “slogan” during political demonstrations against apartheid, but as specified in Miles’ autobiography, the title means freedom. The freedom of people, the freedom of an artist.

At that time Miles was in another dimension. He was about to arrive to his final goal, artistically he already had done everything and satisfied everyone. With Amandla he made the world understand what “freedom” means. He moved away from the style that marked his previous works – see Kind of Blue – and proposed a sound aimed to approach another world: rock.

He seemed always a difficult, grumpy, often aggressive artist. They called him “The Prince of Darkness”, but actually he was a humble and generous man who knew how to get loved by everyone.

Some time ago, Dangerous Minds collected a small web gallery of Miles Davis’ paintings. Find some below.

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