Published April 12. 2013 8:00PM Updated April 13. 2013 1:22AM
New London — It was a Love fest.
At Friday's exhibition opening at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, Courtney Love — the famed rocker who's showing her drawings and paintings at the museum — was surrounded no matter where she moved by a dizzying crush of people.
Leather-wearing youths mixed with members of the museum old guard. Fans swoonily told their idol that they loved her and then giddily posed with her for iPhone photos snapped by friends. When Love mentioned she is releasing a new single in May, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause.
Dressed demurely in a short black dress with lace sleeves and lace stockings, Love was low-key and engaging, impressing her share of fans. Quinn Nace, a 16-year-old who accented her outfit with a dog collar necklace and black-and-white dyed hair, came from Madison to see Love. She, like Love, is an artist and has her own band.
"I worshipped her in (her band) Hole. ... She made me the person I am today, so I told her that. And she was like, 'What are you, 12?'" Nace recalled, laughing. "She was just really sweet and kind."
Love — who was married to the late Kurt Cobain and who gained alt-rock success as the singer and rhythm guitarist for Hole — brings a musical sensibility to her drawing and painting.
Her creations — on paper and using various media, from pastel to graphite to watercolor — mix text with images.
"It's like songs but without music," Love said.
And the work featured in this exhibition "was a lot about romance. It was a lot about a particular heartbreak. ... It was, like, one dude basically. I got a lot of art out of it."
The exhibition "Mentoring Courtney Love: David LaChapelle and Courtney Love" is on view through Aug. 10.
This marks the first museum exhibition for Love. Her work is showcased alongside that of renowned photographer LaChapelle, who was not at Friday's opening reception.
His photos had been part of a previous Lyman Allyn exhibition, 2011's "Face Off." Fred Torres, a member of the Lyman Allyn board, was LaChapelle's art dealer at the time and still represents Love.
Last year, museum director and curator Nancy Stula traveled to New York City to see Love's debut art show, "And She's Not Even Pretty," at Fred Torres Collaborations.
Stula recalls being impressed by the authenticity of expression in Love's drawings. Her style, Stula said, is "really spontaneous and raw, and every line is filled with emotion. And knowing what I knew of her music and about her personality — it all fit. It was all of a piece."
Love actually has drawn all her life. She spent time in her younger years at the San Francisco Art Institute in California. Her mother wanted her to become an artist and had her enroll there, but Love only stayed a short time.
"I went to art school, but I just went there to get my trust fund," Love said, cheekily adding that the fund was "small but survivable."
Recently, when she didn't have her band for about three months, Love really focused on creating the drawings that have ended up in the Lyman Allyn show.
Her works all focus on a female figure, and most look very much like, well, Courtney Love. ("At first, I was drawing my girlfriends, and then I just started drawing, I guess, some version of me," she said.) The figure has a shock of long blonde hair. Her full lips are painted fire-engine red. Her dark eyes are big, inquiring and framed by dramatic eyelashes.
Woven into the pieces are sentences; Love said there's so much text because it's like lyrics. Sometimes, the energetic scrawl is clear; other times, the letters disappear into a rush of color or they squiggle into indecipherability.
In one drawing, the female in the background stretches her arms out longingly and is mid-stride as she runs toward a figure in the foreground, his back to the viewer, his expression unknown. Accompanying are the words: "What have I become, my sweetest friend, everyone I love goes away in the end."
As for sources of inspiration, Love told Stula this story about one work: She was at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood the night before the Golden Globes ceremony. It was early morning, maybe 4 a.m. or so, and Love overheard someone ask, "Don't you know who I am?" She'd never heard someone actually say that, and so she worked it into a drawing. Emblazoned on the work are the words "I'm a celebrity get me out of here," and "Don't you know who I am?" In between those sentiments is a female figure, two red tear-like streaks running down her face.
The Lyman Allyn show explores the notion of mentoring as well. LaChapelle was very encouraging to Love. He gave her artists' materials and instructed her, for instance, on the quality of different papers. She would take iPhone photos of her work and send them to him. He'd respond with advice.
Love said LaChapelle "taught me a lot. ... In L.A., it's very hard to find people that are kind of kooky and kind of brilliant. People are just chasing another thing. Carrie Fisher and David are my two best friends in Los Angeles. You know, they're both nut jobs and so am I, so it works out well."
With LaChapelle's work, Stula notes, "everything is very cool. There is something hyper-real and heightened, and a lot of his works have a social message. Here (in his photographs at the Lyman Allyn), the message is art historical — it references art. But many times the works have a social agenda, which Courtney Love's don't. Hers are intensely personal."