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Skepta with his painting Mama Goes to Market
Skepta with his painting Mama Goes to MarketPhotography by Dexter Lander. Via Instagram/@skeptagram

The best, worst and weirdest art by musicians-turned-painters

As Skepta’s first (and only) painting goes to auction, we explore the flowers, fractured souls, and ‘offensive filth’ of other musicians who’ve tried their hand at visual art, from Britney Spears to Kurt Cobain

Remember the first lockdown of 2020, that long-ago period of sourdough starters, government-mandated walks, and the Tories briefly pretending that they care about the NHS? Ah, it was a different time, where the hours of the day merged into one long scroll down TikTok, and – blessed with furlough payments and free time – many of us reverted to the low-stakes arts and crafts we enjoyed as kids. As it turns out, though, some of us were more successful in our creative lockdown pursuits than others.

Last week, for instance, Skepta revealed that he’d taken up painting during lockdown in 2020, and is already set to sell his work at an upcoming Sotheby’s auction. Titled Mama Goes to Market, the painting depicts three women and a child at a market in Nigeria, with graffiti tags added by Chito, Slawn and Goldie at a subsequent Givenchy pop-up. Going into the auction, the estimate is £40,000 to £60,000.

The most obvious question people have asked in response to the news: is the painting worth it? Or perhaps: is it worthy of its standing alongside other artworks that Skepta has chosen to include in the Contemporary Curated sale, by the likes of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Theaster Gates? Obviously, the value of art is subjective, but it also goes without saying that excellence in one creative field (in Skepta’s case, music) doesn’t necessarily translate to another (i.e. painting). Plus, Skepta himself admits that it’s his first and only painting, adding that he felt an impulse to paint when his shows were cancelled due to the pandemic.

“I just ordered the oil paints and the canvas [on Amazon],” he explains, in a Financial Times interview on Mama Goes to Market, and the associated sale. “I’m still in a bit of a daze, because I didn’t do it for all this.” 

To some extent, of course, Skepta – like any celebrity – is protected from the kind of disappointment faced by full-time artists at auction; it’s hardly going to put a dent in his income from music streams and record sales, with 5.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify. And besides, buyers will often pay a premium for a celebrity signature. So does it even matter if celebrity paintings are good? Presumably it does if you’re dropping £60,000 on them – or maybe not. Then again, isn’t it inspiring for figures already in the public eye to put their budding creative endeavours on show, regardless of their reception? Skepta’s Sotheby’s auction, running September 7 to September 13, also has the added bonus of bringing eyes to a range of contemporary art that, according to the British-Nigerian rapper, summons the energy and colours of his mother country.

In any case, it’s far from the first time that a musician has picked up a paintbrush and attempted to express themselves in a visual medium. Sometimes, this interest has preceded their more successful musical career (see: Kanye’s high school artworks on Antiques Roadshow). Other times, it comes later on, when they’ve got enough time and money to hop on Amazon and spend hours bringing their ideas to life with oil paints (apparently Skepta’s painting took seven days, plus another six days to dry).

Below, we’ve gathered some of history’s best, worst, and weirdest examples of famous musicians branching out into visual art for your viewing pleasure.