Renee Pappas’ circles and worlds converged to create the photo exhibit, VISIONS OF A MAGIC TIME.
This exhibit harkens back to a simpler time. Rock n’ roll was at its peak, and influencing culture in multiple ways. It was a seminal time in history. This era was captured in some marvelous photographs that depict some of the world’s most famous rock musicians in ways that only those closest to them could portray. Pattie Boyd, known for her marriages to George Harrison and Eric Clapton, uniquely captured her loves and their cohorts, highlighting both their serious and whimsical sides. Henry Diltz befriended many soon-to-be-famous musicians. He enjoyed taking photos – people liked them, and he eventually turned pro. His images of The Doors; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Jackson Browne; and others adorned album covers, and showed a different side of the hottest musicians of the time. Carinthia West, a former girlfriend of Mick Jagger, captured the Rolling Stones as perhaps no one else has. A small selection of their images grace the exhibit, VISIONS OF A MAGIC TIME, at Chicago’s Hilton|Asmus Contemporary Gallery, produced by its photography division, Hilton|Asmus FOTO.
So how did an exhibit of this magnitude end up in a small Chicago gallery? Enter Renee Pappas.
The Multifaceted Renee Pappas
The Oak Park, IL native’s life story reads like a novel. In fact, we’re surprised Hollywood hasn’t called yet. Her CV and her personal stories read like a who’s who of rock n’ roll history. Her past experiences, different circles of friends, and fate converged, to inspire a fantastic photography exhibit.
Renee and her family moved to L.A. when she was young. Later, she and her sister Connie, who eventually married The Byrds’ Chris Hillman, loved music and realized they wanted to be a part of the burgeoning California music scene. They moved to Laurel Canyon, which was home to many now-iconic musicians.
Her first industry gig was as an agent with International Famous Agency (IFA) in 1969. There, she worked with Dennis Hopper, among others. A year-and-a-half later, she took a job with the Beach Boys, as their Director of Personal Appearances. In 1972, she joined Geffen-Roberts Management Company (yes, that Geffen) and guided the careers of legends like the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt.
Her life took a turn when she married prominent record producer Jerry Wexler, co-founder of Atlantic Records. She shifted her focus to completing her degree, majoring in History and minoring in Art History. Her love of art led her to take a very active role in expanding Wexler’s art collection. This brought her full force into the art world, of which she became an international name, consulting in Greece with international productions of George Lucas and Steve Spielberg, and then becoming a promotional powerhouse, which is another great story for another time. Her list of experiences and accolades is extensive.
Renee shared in her own words, how she came to know these talented photographers, and how the exhibit came together.
Neighbor Henry Diltz
Geffen-Roberts’ office was in a two-story English Tudor building on Sunset Boulevard, which was owned by the legendary song writer, Hoagy Carmichael. It was a laid back sort of place with the musicians newly signed to the label and the management company hanging out. Along with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frye, and Randy Meisner, there were various record producers, graphics designers, and a very nice photographer named Henry Diltz.
Henry was a former musician who lived in Laurel Canyon. He began taking photographs for album covers and publicity shots. I would run into Henry in the decades to come –he took the photographs for my sister’s wedding to Chris Hillman.
The Eagles and Jackson Brown scored hits. Linda Ronstadt began her incredible career, spanning multiple genres: rock and roll, country, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Mariachi songs, and jazz. We knew we were part of a new direction in music. It was an exciting time.
Enter Carinthia West
In 1972, I left the company when I moved to New York to marry Jerry. In 1973 he signed and produced a Welsh singer songwriter, Gary Farr, the son of Tommy Farr “the Tonypandy Terror” and the British and Empire heavyweight champion who fought Joe Lewis for the world title at Yankee Stadium in 1937.
It seemed that Gary would become a boxer, but instead he wrote beautiful love songs including one called “The General’s Daughter” was about his girlfriend, Carinthia. Jerry brought Carinthia and Gary home for dinner and it was decided that they would stay at our Miami home for a month so Gary could write songs.
Jerry took Gary to record in Mussel Shoals and the result was “Addressed to the Censors of Love”. Neither the album nor the single “Mexican Sun” was a hit and I never saw Gary again.
However, Carinthia and I would run into each other at restaurants, parties, concerts, and at infamous wedding of Lorne Michaels (creator of Saturday Night Live, and our neighbor in East Hampton) and model Susan Forestal. The guests were a who’s who of fashion, TV and music. The party became so raucous, that Jack Nicholson wandered about in a red suit and the next day someone found John Belushi passed out on a sand dune.
Carinthia lived in Los Angeles for several years where she was roommates with Helen Mirren and Rory Flynn, and then moved back to London. After Jerry and I divorced in 1983, I went to live in Athens and Rome, and we lost touch.
The seeds are planted
After returning to Chicago in 2014, one night I caught the parody of The Beatles, “The Ruttles” on TV. In a wedding scene I glimpsed someone who looked like Carinthia and when the credits ran my guess was confirmed.
Thanks to the magic of Google I found that Carinthia had exhibited her photographs in San Francisco and London. I contacted the San Francisco gallery and we reconnected. This was incredible timing because I had just begun to discuss the possibility of organizing some photography exhibitions for Arica Hilton at Hilton|Asmus. We spoke with Carinthia and discussed the timing.
In February of 2015 I was invited to Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party in Los Angeles. The following week, Pattie Boyd had an exhibition opening in San Francisco at the same gallery which presented Carinthia’s work. I traveled to San Francisco ostensibly to speak with Pattie about appearing in a documentary which I was developing.
My old friend Peter Albin, who was a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin’s first band, accompanied me. The first person I spotted was Henry Diltz. He introduced me to Pattie and later to his partner, Peter Blachley. After telling them about my collaboration with Arica, they suggested that we meet the next morning.
Peter and Henry told me that they were putting together a lecture tour for Pattie and Henry and that an exhibition in Chicago would fit in perfectly with the tour. The next day, Pattie and I spoke. We discovered that we had numerous mutual friends and had once stayed in the same house in Nassau!
Back in Chicago, Arica and I decided to create an exhibition with all three photographers. Carinthia and and Pattie were dear friends, and the stars aligned. Just as they did so many years ago when we lived in a magical world of troubadours and minstrels whose images these three very talented photographers have captured for all the ages.
Popular exhibit extended
The exhibit has garnered attention from local media, and has been one of the most visited of the year. The gallery teamed up with Virgin Hotels to host a pop-up exhibitions at the hotel, and the artists appeared in separate events at City Winery. By popular demand, the exhibit has been extended through the end of the year. Visit Hilton|Asmus and check it out. Don’t miss this fun, unique exhibit featuring some of rock n’ roll’s biggest icons. You could even take one of these photos home with you. Signed and numbered prints are available for purchase.
Hilton|Asmus Contemporary is located at 716 N. Wells in Chicago. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm Tuesday – Saturdays and on Sundays and Mondays by appointment only. Email. 312.852.8200