This past spring Antony was invited to perform in Long Beach, California, at the TED conference, the annual confab of brainy futurists and technologists. His three-song set capped an afternoon of mind-blowing multimedia presentations. In the midst of his hushed performance in front of the assembled machers at this wired pep rally, Antony said softly, “I’ve heard so much talk about development, but I didn’t hear anyone talk about retreat.” Upon leaving the stage, he said to me, “I think I dropped like a stone. I might have been too confrontational.”
“I’m really at odds with my stage presentation right now,” he had told me earlier, in the lobby of the Hyatt hotel on his way to a session curated by Bill Gates. “When I make the music, I’m so careful with it. I really prepare it. And then there’s this horrible out-of-control feeling that I get about being a visual presence in my work. As I’ve gotten older, what I’ve been left with is, Why are all these people looking at me? What do I want them to see?”
For the past few years Antony has been filling sketchbooks with drawings; more recently, he started painting in oil. “All the walls are just covered with projects,” he announced one morning when we met for breakfast at the SoHo Grand Hotel. Antony was on his way to a studio he’d borrowed from a friend so he could pin 10-foot-long sheets to the wall in order to paint on them. He entered the room looking like some sort of extra from a Harry Potter film in a custom-made circular black corduroy cape by Creatures of the Wind, which he had wound around his neck like a scarf so that his face looked as if it were floating on a cloud of fabric.
In tandem with the release of Swanlights, Abrams published a volume of Antony’s artwork. His recent paintings evoke a natural world disrupted, then realigned, according to his own magical thinking. His found images of landscapes, many from old copies of Life, are often dunked in a river, dried by a fire, and coated with thick white paint, over which he’s drawn lines or circles, dripped wax, or pasted shards of mirror or coils of thread. Usually the paper’s edges are burned, or a hole is cut out.
Despite his increasing output across many disciplines, Antony claims no far-reaching game plan. “It’s a little like growing hair and fingernails,” he said of his process. Sometimes a melody will hit him and he’ll just sit down and plunk something out on the piano. But more often a fragment of something pops into his head while he’s walking down the street and he simply records it on his phone.