I started painting at the age of three or four. I remember copying my older brothers who were commercial artists – they used to illustrate adverts, and a lot of columns and articles for newspapers. They were very draughtsman-like and I had more of a free style, but they used to encourage me. They admired the way I could be so free when I was painting. But I was intrigued by their work. I decided I wanted to be a scenic designer for the movies, but I couldn’t get in because you had to be in a union, or know the right person.
I went on to art school at Ealing Art College, and I haven’t stopped painting since. It became more serious in the early ’80s when I was based in America. I was living a mad lifestyle and I was spending all my money when the band wasn’t working. I often found myself in “foreclosure”, as they call it. I thought, I’ve got to earn some money: I can paint. I started to do portraits of people who had influenced me – everyone from Michael Jackson to Mozart to Marley. They sold, and the grocery money started to come in.
At the height of the Stones’ fame, our lives were so boozy and there was so much travelling that I didn’t get time to paint. It was only when we were recording in Montauk, New York or the Caribbean – when we were bolted down – that I had some space. I would sit and draw Keith [Richards], or in the studio I’d watch Charlie [Watts] behind his drums and draw, or get different angles of Mick.
The band used to take the mickey out of me – everything was “by Ronnie Wood”, as if I were showing off. They found it hard to talk about art. Maybe it was because Charlie and Keith were artists themselves. They would think, oh, Ronnie’s flaunting his work again. I think it’s because I’ve tried not to sit on my work like Charlie does. He’s got a lot of line drawings but he never shows them to anyone. I was fortunate enough to see a few of them, and I said, “Your work should be seen!”
Now I paint in my own studio, which is a converted 19th-century workers’ cottage about a mile from my house. I walk through the forest, get some inspiration, and then paint. The walk is coming through on a lot of my canvases now. We’ve been having beautiful days, and also cold wintry ones, so the light changes all the time. Since the lockdown I’ve had the luxury of time, so I can come down here. It reminds me of when I was at art school, spending the afternoon making art. And I often go to my books for inspiration. I have a huge collection of books on artists across all the different movements – the Renaissance, right through to the impressionists and the expressionists. At the moment I’m focused on Eugène Delacroix. I love the action in his work, the way he paints horses and people and movement. I’ve just finished a book on El Greco, and recently I did a skit on Picasso – a take on The Dance. I did a couple of canvases – one which sold immediately and one I’ve kept. The original was in the Tate Modern. I went and saw it and it was like going to a gig. I was like, “Wow, there it is!” I was pushing people out of the way. It was like it was my painting.
You see art by other people in showbiz – people like Tony Curtis and Tony Bennett – and people say they should stick to acting or singing. It’s a hard struggle to be known for one thing, then try to crack it in another. Being a guitar player and a rock ’n’ roller, it was difficult, at first, to be accepted in the art world as a painter. But I can paint. You just have to press on. Your work speaks for itself.