Painting Watercolors in the Mosh Pit

Painting Watercolors in the Mosh Pit

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because where there’s a high-decibel will, there’s a paintbrush way.

By Eugene S. Robinson

None of it was working the way he wanted. While pastry chef Andrea Spinelli spun magic dishes and magical desserts at Milan’s noted Pasticceria Spinelli, he’d had another abiding interest: music. But his music listening, everything from alternative/indie to rock and EDM, and his music creating — the 25-year-old Spinelli had been drumming since he was 11 — concealed a connected but heretofore unrecognized interest in painting.

“Listening and visualizing are strictly connected for me,” says Spinelli, who’s more than 6 feet tall. “And I couldn’t do one without the other.” But music is communal and painting, well, not so much. Especially given that what Spinelli enjoyed painting was live music. So he’d go to live shows, take notes, maybe make a few sketches, take a few photos or later paint from memory — only to have it painfully underscore the fact that while music, specifically live music, was wildly dynamic, painting at his house in Arluno, a little town about 25 kilometers from Milan, was not.

Then an “aha” moment: Why not paint in the middle of the swirl of sweat and smoke, front row on the scene of the crime? Clubs have water; he could bring the paints. Indeed, why not? In general Spinelli spends up to about 20 minutes for sketches and then about an hour and a half for the watercolor, easily about the average length of a show. If he got in no one’s way, or not so much that it screwed up the show, it seemed to make sense. So he did it.

“People were very good about it all,” Spinelli says. “Very curious and approving. And I enjoyed the show, too. Just in a different way.”

A way that saw the work accumulate without anyone really seeing it, and then the realization that more people were seeing his cake creations — his Sacher torte, a chocolate cake with jam in the center, is to die for — than were seeing his paintings. So without any formal training, Spinelli just did what people do in digital reality: He made a website, thinking it’d be cool for his friends, or for people at shows who wanted to see what the hell he was doing after he finished doing it but couldn’t be bothered to stick around.

Then, in short order, exhibitions in Pavia, Milan and the magic of selling the paintings, “a good number” of them driving him right to where we find him now, with six events coming up in traditional venues like galleries, and some in the very clubs where the paintings were initially made. “Part of being an artist is closing the circle, showing people and having them see what you’re seeing,” says New York artist Abe Lincoln Jr.

Which is what Spinelli thinks, too. So from the raft of upcoming exhibitions to the recording of a record with producer Francesco Capasso that sees him solo-drumming onstage in front of video projections created from his watercolors, it’s all about the seeing. “Not only as fundamental part of my creative process,” he says, “but just what makes me happy.”

[Total disclosure: It’s what makes us happy as well, as Spinelli’s portrait of the author onstage with his band Oxbow is cause for great merriment around the office.]