I first met Jason Newsted 17 years ago at the University of Massachusetts, in a bustling backstage area slightly smaller than the 1,500-square-foot Micaëla Gallery on Geary Street, where the onetime Metallica bassist held the opening party last night for his first public art exhibit, which runs through July 27.
At that initial introduction, Newsted was disheveled, having spent nearly three hours on stage thrashing along to a thunderous soundtrack comprised largely of hits from Metallica's 1991 self-titled breakthrough album. He wore a dirty white t-shirt and ripped jeans, greeting every autograph-seeking fan with the disarming familiarity of an old friend.
On Thursday at the Micaëla, it was clear that few things have changed about Newsted, who left Metallica in 2001 and insists he has never regretted it. At 47, he's leaner now, and the lines on his angular face--so often contorted into a fierce scowl for the band's videos and photo shoots--are more clearly defined. There was no t-shirt, though. He wore a black sports jacket and striped button-down to match his ash-colored jeans.
Newsted began painting in 2005, after a series of shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries left him unable to shred, and forced him to become ambidextrous. (He's naturally right-handed.) The work began as a hobby, a new creative outlet that allowed him the freedom of expression his body seemed to be perversely denying him. It wasn't until a year later that he considered showcasing the results.
"I started out figuring out what techniques would allow me to draw and paint while my arm was in a sling, so I threw things at the canvas using a spatula, with one hand," says Newsted, whose show features just six of his roughly 1,000 paintings. "It was purposeful. I wanted each piece to mean something, and I wanted to paint a picture each day, as a reflection of what I was living and breathing at that time. The mentality was the same as my approach to writing music."