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“Love to Paint You Baby”: RIP Disco Queen — and Neo-Primitivist Painter— Donna Summer

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Donna Summer, Picasso Girl

The world lost the mother of electronic dance music when Donna Summer passed away, after an apparent battle with lung cancer. At 63, she left behind a long legacy of disco hits: from the wedding and bar mitzvah staple “Last Dance” to the girl power anthem “She Works Hard for the Money” to the breathless thesis on the multiple orgasm, “Love to Love You Baby.”

Summer was also a prolific and bankable painter. “The first painting I ever sold went for $38,000,” she told the Atlantic City Weekly in 2010. “I thought, ‘I may want to stop singing now. I’ve sold some expensive paintings, and probably sold close to a million dollars worth of art.’”

As a painter, Summer’s style could be described as latter-day Post-Impressionism. Early Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, Modigliani, and Kirchner might be cited as influences. “I paint abstracts but not too abstract… Realism is all around me, and when I paint I want to express myself beyond what I see and feel in the real world. I want to paint something that nobody else can paint outside of my head.” In this clip from “Regis and Kathy,” Summer unveils a reductive painting of a woman in an eighties power suit, entitled “Chairman of the Board.” She says her prices range from $7,500 to $75,000. She also reveals her process, layering thick acrylic impasto with a scraper.

Donna Summer, "Mother's Arms"

In a meditative passage in her autobiography “Ordinary Girl: The Journey,” Summer ruminates on the difference between painting and performing, noting “that at the end of a concert, there is nothing left except a sense of elation that diminishes with time. With painting, whatever I put down on the canvas is there when I wake up the next day and forever. In that way, it’s more like a recording than an event — more permanent, like a live album of a show, rather than the show itself.”

Summer was one of many entertainers moonlighting as painters, including Ronnie Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Courtney Love, Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper, Joni Mitchell, and John Mellencamp.

Her many talents will be missed!

–Chloe Wyma

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