Revealed: The Original Artwork of Kurt Cobain
Exactly 18 years after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, The Fix unveils five of his original artworks. A dark look into the mind of a tortured heroin addict, they're also ground zero in a battle between Cobain's widow and his publishing company.
Four never-before-seen paintings and one drawing by Kurt Cobain are the latest notes to a story that began 18 years ago this week, on April 5, 1994, the day the iconic rock star injected heroin for the last time and then blew his head off, leaving the famed Nirvana catalog to his widow Courtney Love and daughter, Frances Bean, and sparking a battle that's lasted almost 20 years. The Fix reporter Carmela Kelly unearthed this trove while reporting the Fix e-book, Courtney Comes Clean.
The work is housed in Art Pack, a high-end storage facility in Los Angeles. Love has publicly declared her intention to auction off the artwork, as well as guitars and other of Cobain's memorabilia; the sale is expected to earn up to $100 million. However, ownership of the artwork is contested. According to sources, Cobain's publishing company, EOM, covered Love's unpaid storage fees for the cache and may try to block the auction.
What is clear is that this work comes from the troubled mind of Cobain at the height of his addiction. Painted in 1993, during the recording of Nirvana's last studio album, In Utero, they illustrate the young genius's fascination with decay, conception, nourishment, and waste. We've seen the figures in these paintings before: An image of a birthing sea horse was the cover to an early single; a figure resembling a puppet's skeleton was the cover for Incesticide, a B-side collection released after 1991's Nevermind, with liner notes by Cobain detailing a search through the London back alleys for one such doll. The same figure in another painting has flared green wings closely resembles In Utero's front cover. Cobain decorated the back with a fetus-heavy collage he made in his living room, shot by longtime Nirvana photographer Charles Peterson—who took a subsequent snapshot of Courtney and Francis standing over the work in their pajamas.
A painting of seahorses, fetuses, and sperm resembles a late collaboration Keith Haring did with William Burroughs, who collaborated with Cobain on A Priest They Called Him, a guitar/spoken word album. Cobain even tried to get Burroughs to play the crucified old man in "Heart Shaped Box," a video directed by Anton Corbijn, but designed by Cobain. "He had drawings for the whole video," Corbijn told an interviewer. "I've never even seen a video director make that many detailed drawings for one video."
Investigative reporting by Carmela Kelly.