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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Celebrity Painters

DHead XXVIII--XXV, 1995-96, David Bowie
Over the years, I've written a few times regarding artists who were famous entertainers, but also painters, including Red Skelton, Tony Bennet, George W. Bush (I found him very entertaining at times), Dwight Eisenhower, Sir Winston Churchill and probably a few more that escape me at the moment. As with any group of artist, some of these were better (often MUCH better) than others. That's the case as well with the group of celebrities I'm highlighting today. They are, for the most part, second generation to the earlier group. In some cases, these individuals were artists first, before they made it in show business. One or two are, at best, what we'd term "Sunday painters." I've chosen eleven, which is not to say there may be others more deserving or that all these artists are creating equally. Naturally, with that many, I can't go into a great deal of detail about them or their work. If you like what you see, most are not all that hard to find online.

Trained as an artist first, music, songwriting, and performing came later.
Starting in alphabetical order, David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in 1947 and grew up in the Brixton section of London. Although his first schooling was as an artist, David was recognized at an early age for his musical ability. Growing up, his musical idols were Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. He formed his first band in 1962 at the age of fifteen. Despite the fact his early training makes him one of the best of the celebrity artist featured here, his career in music has so dominated his time and energy during the past fifty years his art has become little more than a welcomed relief valve for the stress and strain of the Rock world. His Child in Berlin (above) from 1976, depicts a young boy trying to get up the nerve to climb the steps to an appointment with his dentist. It's one of Bowie's best works. One has to wonder if his DHead XXVIII--XXV (top) may, in fact, feature portraits. See anyone you know?

Faces as creative on canvas as the ones he creates on film.
Knowing the comic actor, Jim Carrey, as well as we do, we have to wonder, in seeing his paintings, if he doesn't paint for the sheer fun of it. Given his movie roles, it's hard to imagine his taking art seriously. Carrey is a Canadian-American, born in Newmarket, Ontario, in 1962. Carrey was mentored by the much-put-upon standup comic and actor, Rodney Dangerfield, who helped him land several television jobs, eventually leading to a role in the comedy series In Living Color. That led to a long list of movie roles in which his facile face and zany antics came to be his most valuable asset. Today, Carrey is as much an Expressionist on canvas as he has long been on the silver screen.

A "Sunday" painter who had little regard (or time) for his art work.
For years, Johnny Cash doodled, sketched and, eventually, painted. He did so informally giving little thought to the possibility that his work would appeal to the fine art community. In 1993 Cash showed a friend, a painting he did titled Flight (above). Cash was encouraged to publish the abstract impressionist work making it available to collectors. The singer gave permission for Flight to be published as limited edition prints. The art galleries like his work. If Cash could have produce more such art to satisfy collector demand, he would have become an important painter. Unfortunately, due to his exhaustive touring and entertainment schedule, Flight would be the only painting he ever published.

A man who takes his art as seriously as he does his acting.
John Christopher Depp II is a self-taught artist, born in 1963. His first flirtation with show business came in the form of a garage band he joined in his hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky when he dropped out of school at the age of fifteen. The band ended up in California, then split up, forcing Depp to pursue odd jobs until a friend of his wife, actor Nicholas Cage. advised him to become a movie actor. However, Depp turned down his first starring role, for a similar role in the Fox TV series 21 Jump Street. His career has been one film success after another since then. Depp's portraits of Marlon Brando and Keith Richards represent two of his greatest career influences. In looking at his artwork, it's hard to tell who his artist inspirations may be.

The work of Phyllis Diller bears a strong resemblance to that of Matisse and Modigliani.
The comedienne, Phyllis Diller, died in August of 2012 after a fifty-year career in television and movies. Born Phyllis Ada Driver in 1917, she was from Lima, Ohio. The mother of five, she got her start doing fifteen-minute TV segments in Oakland, California. Dressed in a house robe, she called the show, Phyllis Diller, the Homely Friendmaker. The comedienne's whirlwind career, like that of so many celebrity artists, raises the question regarding their art, when did they find the time? Diller was a self-taught artist who began painting around 1963, long after her career was well underway. She worked in acrylics, watercolors and oils throughout the 1970s, filling her Brentwood home with portraits and still-lifes. In 2003, at age 86, she held the first of several "art parties," selling her artwork along with her stage clothes and costume jewelry. Her paintings often involved stylized female faces suggesting the warm, inner beauty of the "homely" friend maker.

Bob Dylan's art is sometimes described as "freewheeling," the title of his second album.
Poet and songwriter Bob Dylan's artwork has a very impressionistic feel to it in keeping with his "freewheelin'" personality. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, in 1941, after some fifty years as a traveling musician, the soon to be seventy-five years old, performer has now started to slow down, which means he has more time for his art. While travelling on tour between 1989 and 1992, Bob Dylan created a collection of drawings that were published in a book entitled Drawn Blank in 1994. These expressive works capture Dylan's chance encounters and observations. He claimed that the creation of these portraits, interiors, landscapes, still lifes, nudes and street scenes he were done to "relax and refocus a restless mind". In the autumn of 2008, the National Gallery of Denmark contacted Dylan and agreed to stage his first major exhibition in Copenhagen. Dylan regarded the "Drawn Blank Series" as a finished project and embarked on an entirely new series of paintings, sparking a period of intensive work and creativity. Dylan produced a series of more than forty paintings in less than a year. Not one to remain static in a single form of expression, Dylan is now experimenting and testing new artistic techniques. He now sees the "Drawn Blank Series" as not being representative of his art. He is more interested in directing attention to the "Brazil Series" (above), a rich body of work he feels offers a more accurate reflection of his adventuresome pictorial art.

More of a photographer than painter.
Film actor Dennis Hopper, though first and foremost an actor in such films as Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, (both opposite the iconic James Dean in the mid 1950s), he considered himself much more a photographer than a painter. In researching his art career, I'd have to agree with that; his photos are relatively easy to find, his paintings, what few there were, seem quite rare. Being an actor himself, as well as an excellent photographer, put Hopper in the enviable position of having intimate access to a host of other, legendary movie stars such as Paul Newman, John Wayne and others. Ostracized by the Hollywood film studios due to his reputation as a "difficult" actor, Hopper turned to photography in the late 1960s. During this period he created the cover art for an Ike & Tina Turner single, gradually becoming a prolific photographer, and writer. Hopper's early photography is known for portraits from the 1960s, which he did for Vogue and other magazines. His photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 March on Washington and 1965 civil-rights march in Selma, Alabama, were published, leading to intimate, unguarded images of celebrities like Andy Warhol and Jane Fonda, which were the subject of gallery shows. Hopper died of prostate cancer on May 29, 2010, just twelve days after his seventy-fourth birthday.

Sir Paul McCartney--another musician who found refuge in art.
As a schoolboy during the 1950s, young Paul McCartney thrived on art assignments, often earning top honors for his visual work. However, his lack of discipline negatively affected his grades, preventing him from attending art college. During the 1960s, he delved into the visual arts, explored experimental cinema, his first contact with the London avant-garde scene being through artist John Dunbar, who introduced him to art appreciation and Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Peter Blake, and Richard Hamilton. Later, after the Beatles swarmed to America, McCartney became interested in painting while watching artist Willem de Kooning work in his Long Island studio. However, it wasn't until 1983 that McCartney had his first exhibition, not in the U.S. but in Siegen, Germany. It wasn't until 2000 that the former Beatle exhibited his work in the U.K. Today, McCartney no longer paints much. He's involved in producing television and other creative outlets. He certainly doesn't need the money. He's reportedly the wealthiest entertainer in all England.

The angelic art of former Fleetwood Mac singer, Stevie Nicks.
Stevie Nicks insists: "I don't really call myself a painter...I draw. So I draw my pictures and then sometimes I paint them in and sometimes I don't. So I'm really more into the fine drawing... And I just draw little creatures, and little people and little bits of my drawing has gone out over the years. I'm going to do a book. I'm working on it now with my best friend. That's just and some poetry and some little vignettes from my journals that I think are going to be really nice. And it'll be in the next year or you'll get to actually see what I draw, because I've been doing this always, I've just never shown anybody. My drawing is like my meditation."

Rosie O'Donnell--abstract collages--with a message.
Rosie O'Donnell was born in 1962 in Commack, on Long Island. She is best known as a multi-talented celebrity of the stage, screen and television--a present day renaissance woman. A tireless philanthropist for needy children, Ms. O'Donnell, is a comedienne, former talk show host, actress, author, and the winner of 13 Emmy Awards. She is also a passionate abstract expressionist. After the 9-11 disaster in 2001, O'Donnell felt compelled to begin expressing her feelings on canvas. Her emotions spilled out onto the blank stretched whiteness. O'Donnell has the ability to transfer her talents into painting, with shear intensity and complete abandon. Attacking the canvas with a ferocity and with a freedom from inhibitions, she often intersperses words or statements with her images. She frequently incorporates found objects into her intriguing compositions; fragments of photos, nails, wire, newspaper clippings, plastic, wood, etc. anything to help her expel her innermost thoughts and transfer them onto her canvasses. Rosie is often compared favorably to the neo-expressionist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both of them combine graffiti with collage, exhibiting a similar raw expression. They both have an innate inventiveness resulting in works that are innovative, controversial, and thought provoking.

Rocky? A painter? Who would have thought...
“I love art more than anything in the world except for my family, and I can’t imagine a more artistic environment than I’m in right now. I try to combine in my paintings cinematic feeling, emotional feeling, and sometimes actually writing on the page to combine all the different elements of communication.” --Sylvester Stallone


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