Miles Davis statue: Alton joins Nice and Kielce

First published on the ROCK ART EDITIONS blog on 21 September 2015

Miles Davis statue in Alton, Illinois, USA

Miles Davis statue in Alton, by Preston Jackson, photo © The Telegraph, Alton

The unveiling of the new Miles Davis statue in Alton, Illinois last week delighted fans, both of Miles and of rock art.

The Alton statue is testimony to Miles Davis’ ever-growing stature as a giant of twentieth century culture. And, hot on the heels of the unveiling of the Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis, it underlines the increasing popularity of street rock art.

Welcoming Alton’s new Miles Davis statue, I found myself comparing it with Miles Davis statues in Nice, France and in Kielce, Poland.  How similar are they?  How do they differ?

Miles Davis statue #1 Alton, Illinois

The striking new Alton statue, by sculptor Preston Jackson, is life-size, and cast in bronze. It portrays Miles, probably around 1970, as he was veering from classic chamber jazz to jazz-rock fusion. It’s a realistic piece – it’s obvious from a glance that you’re looking at Miles Davis. Sculptor Jackson didn’t indulge his artistic licence or impose any idiosyncratic stylisation on the work.

The Alton Miles Davis statue, centrally located at 137 West Third Street, will have a big impact, because it’s very good and because of its powerful local resonance – Miles was born in Alton, and its citizens will be enormously proud to be reminded of their most famous son.

All praise artist Preston Jackson and the Miles Davis Memorial Project, which commissioned the statue.

Miles Davis statue #2, Nice, France

The new Alton artwork looks nothing like the Miles Davis statue in Nice, France. Dating from 1999, the Nice statue is the work of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

Her statue isn’t intended to be realistic: it’s double life-size, portraying Davis as portly-going-on-obese trumpeter. It’s in the signature style Niki de Saint Phalle made famous – plump, joyous individuals Hell-bent on having a good time. It’s fun, so it’s finished in bright primary colours.

Miles Davis statue, Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

Miles Davis statue, Hotel Negresco, Nice, by Niki de Saint Phalle, photo © ROCK ART EDITIONS

Nice’s Miles Davis statue is located outside the city’s landmark Hotel Negresco on La Promenade des Anglais, the iconic seafront thoroughfare of the French Riviera.

The Miles Davis statue in Nice has local resonance, though admittedly not as strong as Alton’s. Miles Davis was a frequent performer at jazz festivals on this coast, both in Nice and nearby Juan-les-Pins.

Nice also honours Davis with a public pathway named after him (Allee Miles Davis) in Le Parc des Arenes de Cimiez, the original site of the Nice Jazz Festival.

Artist Niki de Saint Phalle also had strong Nice connections – you can see other delightfully playful statues by her, just east along the Promenade, outside Le Palais de la Mediterranee.  And you can see her distinctive work at MAMAC, the city’s splendid modern and contemporary art museum.

Miles Davis statue #3, Kielce, Poland

You can see a third fine Miles Davis statue in Kielce, Poland.  Like the Alton work, it’s a life-size bronze, this time portraying an ageing Miles, trumpet to his lips, wearing a heavy topcoat against the local weather.

I’ve yet to see this artwork and would welcome comments on it from readers familiar with it.  I’m also unsure who had the enviable vision and skill to create it.  If you know more about this lovely artwork, please Leave a reply, above.

Polish jazz: the Miles Davis statue in Kielce

Miles Davis statue, Kielce, Poland, photo © Staszek Szybki Jest 2006, Creative Commons License

Other Miles Davis statues?

All three wonderful Miles Davis statues, in Alton, Nice and Kielce, pay homage to the legacy of a cultural giant.  They’re the only three I’m aware of, and I suspect there might well be others: if you know of any, please Leave a reply to this post.

Thanks, in advance.


Copyright: artwork and photographs as per captions; text Gerald Smith, ROCK ART EDITIONS 2015.  Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Miles Davis art: vibrant paintings, tentative drawings

First published on the ROCK ART EDITIONS blog on 8 July 2015

Miles Davis art - paintings

Miles Davis art: oil on canvas – Shape Shifter © Miles Davis Estate

First, a frank admission: I’m a sucker for Miles Davis art – just as I am for Miles Davis music.

So I approached the small Miles Davis exhibition in London last weekend with keen anticipation. It was definitely worth the trip, if slightly underwhelming.

Miles Davis art: the venue

The show, curated by Balmain Fine Art, from North Yorkshire, was mounted in the circular ground floor corridor of London’s Royal Albert Hall – a suitably monumental setting for a Miles Davis art exhibition.

Miles Davis art in London

Royal Albert Hall, venue of the exhibition

The show comprised over 50 pieces – a few paintings and prints, but mainly drawings, in pencil, biro and felt-tip. Most pieces were signed, with the familiar “Miles1” signature; a few were stamped with the signature/red Mandarin characters logo of the Miles Davis Estate.

The pieces in the collection ranged in price between £2,000 and £9,500. Most were in the £3-4,000 range.

Miles Davis art: paintings

There were some very desirable pieces of Miles Davis art on display.

Particularly impressive was the exhibition’s key artwork, Shape Shifter, an oil on canvas, provenance “Jo Gelbard New York”, priced at £9,500 (pictured at the top of this review).

I’m partial to Miles Davis oil paintings, especially those, like Shape Shifter, with an African aesthetic. They never fail to evoke emotion. Admittedly, it’s often fear. Just as I wouldn’t have risked speaking out of turn at a Miles Davis gig, I approach the best Miles Davis art with trepidation.

Miles’ African period is dominated by a vibrant colour palette and bold, textured brushstrokes. At its best, this type of Miles Davis art manages to fuse the figurative with the abstract: it takes you a while to realise that you are looking at human faces.

Miles Davis art: limited edition prints

Ezzthetique, a limited edition seriagraph, published by the Miles Davis Estate, is also very tempting. The print, #210 in an edition of 300, wasn’t hand-signed, but carried the Estate’s stamp. It was priced at £750 (presumably including the black frame).

Miles Davis prints - Ezzthetique

Miles Davis art: limited edition prints – Ezzthetique © Miles Davis Estate

Seahorses, another limited edition seriagraph (#170 in an edition of 300), was disappointing. Its colour palette is uncharacteristically timid, its composition unusually vague for a Miles Davis painting.

The drawings – the bulk of the Miles Davis art on display in London – didn’t do much for me, however. I find most of the paintings bold, vivacious, engaging. But fewer drawings excite me – many are too inconsequential, tentative, unconvincing for my taste.

Miles Davis art – provenance, curation, conclusions

The provenance of the Miles Davis art in the London show was variously stated as: the Miles Davis Estate, Miles Davis Estate Europe, Giulia (also expressed as “Gilulia”) Trojer New York, and Jo Gelbard.

While the curation and commercialisation of this small exhibition of Miles Davis art wasn’t perfect, it reaffirmed my admiration for the paintings and prints: Miles Davis, giant of twentieth century music, was also an accomplished painter – a key member of the rock art elite.

Copyrights: illustrations: Shape Shifter and Ezzthetique © Miles Davis Estate; Royal Albert Hall photos © Rock Art Editions 2015; text © Rock Art Editions Ltd. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Miles Davis art: striking statue at Hotel Negresco, Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

First published on the ROCK ART EDITIONS blog in 2014

Jazz musician Miles Davis immortalised by statue in Nice, France

Miles Davis by Niki de Saint Phalle, Nice

After New York, Miles Davis is probably most closely associated with Paris and the French Riviera…

As you stroll along the glorious Promenade des Anglais in Nice, capital of the Riviera, you can’t help but notice a particularly delicious Belle Epoque building.

Hotel Negresco is the dominant landmark in a collection of architectural masterpieces. It’s about halfway between the ferry port and the airport; its signature pink dome is unmistakable from all parts of the Promenade.

Miles Davis statue

Just to the left the hotel entrance you see an unforgettable piece of public Rock Art: a statue of Miles Davis, the iconic jazz trumpeter who crossed over to the rock audience with masterpiece albums like Kind Of Blue and Bitches Brew.

Though the chubby figure doesn’t look much like the fighting-fit, lean trumpeter, the statue’s vibrancy and colour, together with the distinctive muted trumpet, successfully evoke the spirit of Miles Davis.

The statue is the work of renowned artist Niki de Saint Phalle. You can see more of her evocative creations on the facade of le Palais de la Mediterranee, a short walk along the Promenade, to the east, and also in MAMAC, Nice’s impressive gallery of modern and contemporary art.

Nice is full of fine statues of statesmen and soldiers, from Garibaldi to General de Gaulle. How refreshing, then, that the dynamic city also honours its unique musical heritage with this striking, larger than-life-Miles Davis statue.

Rock Art in public places – murals and statues – is becoming ever more popular. And ROCK ART EDITIONS is keen to explore this exciting new artform.

If you come across a piece of public rock art like the Miles Davis statue in Nice, please consider ROCK ART EDITIONS – please send me a photograph with details (who/what, where, by whom…) for inclusion here.

Miles Davis art: At Fillmore is an outstanding box set, with underwhelming cover art

First published on the ROCK ART EDITIONS blog in 2014

Miles Davis 1970 The Bootleg Series Vol 3

Miles At The Fillmore album cover

Lovers of jazz-rock fusion are showering praise on Miles At The Fillmore.

Rightly so – the new box set is high quality Miles Davis music, recorded live in his ground-breaking Bitches Brew period, when he was fully endorsing jazz-rock for the first time.

Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol 3 presents the full sets of the Miles Davis shows over his four-night residency at the New York East Village venue, on four CDs.

The Fillmore East gigs thus get a public airing for first time. Until now, fans have had to settle for a double CD, Miles Davis At Fillmore, an enjoyable but ultimately frustrating, truncated summary version of the shows.

The music on the new release, Miles At The Fillmore, is incandescent – jazz-rock fusion at its early peak. And the digipak box is a sumptuous artefact, especially at such a bargain price – about £16 on Amazon.

Miles Davis The Bootleg Series Vol 3

Miles At The Fillmore package

Apart from the discs, Miles At The Fillmore features four evocative photographs of Miles and his band in full flow, on the digipak housing, plus a splendid booklet and a poster, with contemporary reviews on the reverse.

Negatives? Well, I find the front cover to be rather underwhelming. Passing up the opportunity to front the package with a shot of Miles Davis at his most photogenic, Columbia Legacy have used an abstract photograph, instead.

Engaging, yes. Colourful, ditto. Well executed, certainly. But, to my eyes, a lost opportunity. It reminds me of an image used in press advertising a few years ago for Canon PIXMA printers.

Compare it with the cover art for Bitches Brew, the studio album which supplied the music played on Miles At The Fillmore, featuring exquisite artwork by Mati Klarwein. Maybe that’s an unfair comparison – the Bitches Brew cover art is among the finest of the rock era.

Bitches Brew artwork

Bitches Brew – exquisite cover art by Mati Klarwein, (c) Sony Music 1970

Columbia Legacy are assiduous, often inspired, curators of the heritage of Miles Davis (and that of Bob Dylan). The label’s releases are routinely outstanding, usually with class-leading packaging housing must-have music. So I’m a little puzzled by the cover art of Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol 3.

If you have a more positive reaction to the cover artwork of the new Miles Davis release, I’d love to publish it in the Comments section.

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