Randy Blythe is most recognized for his escapades with Virginian metal band Lamb of God, but this week reveals another side of the charismatic frontman. His first photography exhibition, entitled “Show Me What You’re Made Of,” opens May 2 at Sacred Gallery in Soho. The show presents images Blythe has captured over the last several years as he’s traveled around the world on tour.
“All the photos involving people were taken when either I or the subject or both of us were in an extreme or heightened emotional state,” says Blythe, explaining the theme of the show. “With photography, I’m trying to get outside of myself a bit and just notice what’s there. That’s easy enough to do if you’re just sitting there and your subject is smiling and everything’s OK. But if the subject is in an extreme emotional state, or you’re in the extreme emotional state, it takes focus.”
Blythe observes he’s naturally attracted to life’s polarities. “Through my whole life, I’ve been an extreme kind of guy — to my detriment, a lot of the times,” he admits. In that sense, it’s fitting that some of his photographs incite a kind of energy on par with that of Lamb of God’s music. Take The White Monkey King Destroys the City, a shot that centers on a masked figure dancing in the middle of a circle of flames.
“This photo was taken at Uluwatu Temple in Bali,” he recalls. “After Lamb of God finished our last tour in Jakarta, Indonesia, a few of us flew to Bali for a short vacation. I wanted to surf, and some of my bandmates were willing to give it their first try. I texted Kirk Hammett to let him know I was going to Bali — Kirk is a ripping surfer — and he hooked us up with the legendary Balinese pro surfer Rizal Tandjung. Rizal showed us great hospitality. Rizal also wanted to show us some traditional Balinese culture, as he told me the intricate hand movements of Balinese dance had seeped into Balinese surf style.”
On the next page: “It’s not a metal show, so don’t show up and start breaking stuff…”
Blythe and his bandmates then found themselves at a temple as impromptu (though willing) audience members for a blazing performance of kecak, a traditional dance that recalls a legendary battle from the Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana.
“At the end of the dance, Hanuman, the White Monkey King, kicked these huge flaming wicker balls into the air, several of them almost landing in the audience. One fireball was caught by the strong winds and landed on a tree on the cliff side, setting it alight. This would never happen in America: Someone would get slightly singed, the temple would get sued, and the whole thing would be shut down. Bali is a little more wide open, though, and I was happy to witness such a beautiful and very much alive part of their culture, regardless of any risk of immolation.”
Remarkably, gallery director Kevin Wilson discovered Blythe’s photography without knowing it belonged to the metal star. “I’d actually been following Randy through Instagram,” he remembers, “not realizing at first that that was actually Randy from Lamb of God….I stumbled across his work, and I was like, ‘Man, this guy really has a good eye for photography.’ ” Later, when photos connected to the band appeared in the stream, Wilson put two and two together and reached out to the singer via the photo-sharing social-media platform.
In the inclusive spirit of metal, the exhibit will include price points for art collectors and novices alike. Larger pieces listed for $600 or $450 come in custom frames made from reclaimed wood by Richmond’s own musician and carpenter Greta Brinkman. There will also be an unframed print available for purchase to those who want something to take home but don’t have several hundred dollars to spend — and anyone who visits can walk away with free stickers.
Blythe has invested a significant amount of money into creating the show, and compares the learning curve of going from a digital medium to print to the experience of a band heading into a recording studio for the first time.
“You can sit around with your band and play in the rehearsal space and write a song and go, ‘Yep, got this,’ ” he reasons. “When you go to the studio, you have to worry about mic placement. You have to have a good drum room….You have to know all sorts of this stuff. That’s why you’ve got to hire a producer.” Similarly, in printing his photographs, he’s had to learn the finer points of color calibration, framing, matting, and more. “I’m glad I’ve had some help with this, and I’ve gotten some solid advice from professional photographers and different friends who’ve done this kind of thing before,” he says. “Otherwise, I’d just be lost.”
Sacred Gallery is no stranger to photographers with a rock ‘n’ roll fan base. Since launching in 2009, the space has shown work by Shepard Fairey, Jordu Schell (sculptor for films Avatar, 300, and Hellboy, to name just three), and painter Marshall Arisman. Attendees at past openings have included Dave Navarro and Debbie Harry, so Wilson says he’s prepared for the swarm of metalheads likely to descend upon the gallery during the show’s run through June 30.
“We welcome the chaos,” he says.
Fans have asked Blythe on Instagram how much the show costs, and he reminds them it’s not a ticketed event: It’s free. That said, the rules of decorum are a bit different. “It’s not a heavy-metal show,” he says, “so don’t show up and start breaking stuff. It’s an art gallery. Come at peace, and be civilized.”
The opening reception at Sacred Gallery NYC for “Show Me What You’re Made Of” takes place May 2, from 8 – 11 p.m. For more information, click here.