To the outside observer, touring as a professional musician is all sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. But in reality, it's full of long drives, meals at Waffle House, and the inevitable in-fighting that comes when several humans are trapped in a tight space together for long periods of time.
That weird, unpredictable, and less glamorous side of life on the road is what Sonny Smith -- bandleader of San Francisco garage-pop mainstay Sonny & the Sunsets -- explores in his solo exhibition, Tour, an installation-heavy, mixed-media art show at San Francisco's Gallery 16 that translates the highs and lows of tour life into an interactive experience that feels like walking through Smith's diary.
"People don't wanna hear that rock 'n' roll could suck, but the truth is that it's bizarre out there sometimes, and it's creepy, and it's kind of going upstream, because the world doesn't always want you to pull into Columbus, Ohio and play at a club," says Smith. "There can be a lot of forces against that."
True to Sonny & the Sunsets' lo-fi musical aesthetic, Smith's painting style is unvarnished, rife with stream-of-consciousness abstraction and cartoony silhouettes that evoke Mission School artists like Margaret Kilgallen and Chris Johanson. As viewers move through the gallery space, which includes two funhouse-like installations, they embark on a hero's journey that begins with creepy motels and shady nightclub crowds and ends in a cyclone of sensory overload, existential dread, and cynical humor.
Smith's peppy soundtrack -- which plays from a custom-painted jukebox -- and goofy painting style keep the exhibit from feeling dour. Instead, it offers a realistic perspective on an experience which movies and pop culture often glamorize and mythologize.
Smith says that creating the work in the show was a way for him to process the burnout he began to feel after a decade of regularly going on the road; eventually, he says, he felt like he was losing his purpose.