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Kurt Cobain Was Also an Accomplished Visual Artist and Painter

Nirvana photographed outside the Dalmacia Hotel in Shepherd's Bush, London on a cold October morning in 1990. © Martyn Goodacre

Kurt Cobain needs no introduction as a musician who, along with his hugely influential band NirvanaDave Grohl on drums and Krist Novoselic on bass—turned grunge into a global phenomenon back in the 1990s. What you might not be so aware of about the singer/songwriter and guitarist is that, along with leaving behind his musical legacy, he also left behind numerous artworks too.

Some of these, his drawings from his journals, were seen in 2015 documentary Montage of Heck. But more have recently been on show at the Seattle Art Fair which ran back in August. Unlike much of his music, which comes from later in his troubled but talented life, which saw drug addiction, bleak lyrics, and eventually suicide, some of the art pieces come from earlier in his life.

Kurt Cobain sleeping backstage after supporting Sonic Youth at Sir Henry's Pub, Cork in August 1991. © Ed Sirrs

Some had lain hidden away in the Cobain Estate archives but are now on show after being discovered by the United Talent Agency (UTA) after it took over representing the Cobain Estate in 2016. They decided to exhibit them to show how, along with his music, Cobain was also an accomplished painter and visual artist.

The works include comics and drawings from Cobain’s various notebooks, and also on show—but not sale (“It’s too hard to put a price on them,” Head of UTA Fine Arts Joshua Roth said. “They’re very special to the family.”)—were two never-before-seen paintings.

Kurt Cobain / SEA. Fistula (Acrylic Mixed With Oil)

Like his lyrics, Cobain’s artwork is dark, grotesque, twisted, but with a black humour too. According to UTA the two paintings show “distorted, Expressionistic figures that owe something to the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. One — featuring a drooping, skeletal figure holding some springy poppy flowers that appear much more alive.”

The paintings have been in storage since Cobain’s death in 1994 and one of them, the skeletal figure described above (and shown below), is the artwork used on the cover of Nirvana’s 1992 B-side LP Incesticide.

Kurt Cobain / SEA. Incesticide (Acrylic Mixed With Oil)

“Kurt Cobain was perhaps the most iconic musician of his generation, but his work as a visual artist is often overlooked,” said Roth in a statement. “These paintings provide an opportunity to see him, and some of his contemporaries, in a new light.”

But along with this, due to Cobain’s life ending so soon, the artworks are also tinged with sadness about what could have been. "This is the tragedy of a life ending way too soon," Roth told VICE. "I think he was just getting started."

Kurt Cobain photographed in October 1990 outside the Dalmacia Hotel, Shepherd's Bush, London. © Martyn Goodacre

For those who couldn’t make it to the art fair Roth has told The New York Times that he wants to eventually do a “touring exhibition that really tells the story of who Kurt was through artworks, personal artifacts and memorabilia, sort of like what the Rolling Stones did in London.” Also noting that there are many more Cobain artworks to be revealed, “There are dozens: several paintings, many drawings, many sculptures.” 

Meanwhile another team at UTA is working on a feature-length movie about Cobain’s life, according to UTA’s website.

Kurt Cobain/SEA. Untitled

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer many iconic Nirvana and Kurt Cobain images as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.