Actors that Paint – The Jacks of Many Trades
While acting is often their primary profession, some actors have a passion for visual art and use painting as a way to express themselves creatively. For some, painting may serve as a form of therapy or a way to unwind and relieve stress, while for others it may be a serious pursuit that they work on in their free time.
Although acting and painting are different forms of expression, both require creativity, emotional depth, and a level of technical skill. Likewise, empathy and mastery of performance are required to inhabit entirely new people, to co-create them with the script and director, and to make audiences believe in and feel the emotions of a character.
It is no surprise, then, that many actors actively pursue a path in painting. Both disciplines are, each in their own way, physical. But they also require you to bring different sets of skills to the table, and that broadening of one’s artistic repertoire is no doubt a major appeal of painting for many screen performers.
However, seeing how actors spend so much time behind the mask of theater and character roles, expressing themselves through painting or visual art can give us, and possibly also the actors themselves, some insight into their true persona.
While Hollywood provides for a ready-made audience, a few actors that paint have seized the opportunity to share their inner lives with the world. We also might ask, is their work notable because it is good or because the painter is a celebrity? We’ll let you decide…
Lucy Liu, made famous for roles in Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels, is a very accomplished painter and mixed media artist. Liu’s paintings are characterized by a bold and expressive style that showcases her unique perspective and vision.
She often works with acrylics and incorporates vibrant colors, bold brush strokes, and fluid forms into her work. She has also been known to experiment with various mediums and techniques, including collage, silkscreen, and even sculpture.
Her painting is sometimes cerebral, though it always incorporates active strokes and dynamic composition, keeping its energy high. Her oeuvre is exploratory and insatiably curious, keeping us on our toes as we look for what she will do next.
As a testament to the virtuosity of her styles, her intricate and almost industrial series like Velocity displays her range of visual representation and her eagerness to experiment with mixed media while her sculpture piece Totem points to her meditative and well-honed capabilities in the studio.
There seems to be little doubt that if Liu never starred in major Hollywood productions, she would find herself at home in the world of fine art.
Known for his iconic, tough-guy roles in Rocky and Rambo, you might be surprised to learn that Sylvester Stallone is lesser known amongst actors that paint. In fact, his painting practice started around the same time his acting did.
His work is mainly made up of resplendent abstract artworks that focus on exuberant lines and bright colors. Though his paintings can also be more emotive and contemplative, as in Death of a Friend (1977), made to remeberence of stallone’s former agent in his early career who believed in him when few did. This shows an entirely new side to the actor, whose impressive physique belies a sensitivity underneath.
Stallone seems to use the paintbrush and the canvas as a way of accessing and visualizing deeply hidden feelings and emotions. In the clip below, we see Stallone painting a large-scale, abstract portrait of a character having a nervous breakdown, played by Antonio Banderas in the movie Assasins.
As Stallone himself puts it, “does it look like Antonio, I don’t know, that’s not the point… it’s all a matter of interpretation.”
While he will always remain the hypertrophic hero in our minds, his paintings do give us a new appreciation. That he has continued painting for so long points to a deep need in him to express himself this way, allowing us to see the humanity inside the stoic exterior.
Jim Carrey’s comedic performances are over-the-top dives into hilarious mayhem. And his paintings are just as full throttle, maximalist, and unapologetic. He only came to painting in 2011, during a depressive episode brought on by a break-up — as he put it, he “needed color.”
His often large paintings take on a Fauvist approach to color, with so much frenetic energy that there is little time for detail or carefully rendered line work. Although, his series of Jesus paintings do sometimes rise to the occasion.
Over the years, Carrey has been creating artwork as a form of self-expression and as a way to explore his innermost thoughts and emotions. His artwork is characterized by a bold, spontaneous, and often surreal style that reflects his imaginative and whimsical personality.
Carrey’s paintings often explore themes of identity, personal struggles, and the human condition. He has been known to use a variety of techniques and materials, including acrylics, ink, and watercolor, and he often incorporates elements of collage and text into his works. Carrey’s paintings are often described as energetic, thought-provoking, and deeply personal, and they offer a glimpse into the mind of a creative and imaginative individual.
In recent years, Carrey’s artwork has been shown in galleries and exhibitions, and it has received widespread recognition and acclaim. Despite his success as an actor, Carrey has stated that painting is his true passion, and he continues to create new works and explore new artistic avenues in his spare time.
Overall, Carrey will always be known more as an actor than a painter. And while his paintings would likely not make waves without his almost universal name recognition, they do have an infectious elan.
Billy Dee Williams
Before appearing in the legendary role of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, before ever stepping foot on a film set, Billy Dee Williams attended the National Academy of Fine Art and Design. That’s right, he was a painter first. In fact, in order be able to finance his paint materials and canvases, Billy turned to acting despite the strong protests of his art professors.
Williams background in fine art is evident in his style and ability to draw. While other celebrity painters tend to resort to abstraction to make up for a lack of classial art understanding, Williams is confident and strong in his representation and themes.
His paintings often play with soft lines and heavy blacks — as in At the Club-Jungle Love (1993). This creates a buoyant, bubbly world that recalls the post-impressionists though never falls into all too familiar territory.
Billy Dee describes how acting allows him to perceive the world with a sense of theater, giving him a special ability to express another point of view in his work. Recently, Williams has taken greater steps back from acting to pursue ever more time in his painting career. While his style is at times anachronistic, the feeling and mastery serve the scenes well and bring his subjects to life.
In addition to his love of painting, Williams is also deeply committed to using his art to raise awareness about social and environmental issues. He has been involved in several charitable initiatives over the years, including working with organizations that support wildlife conservation, environmental protection, and the fight against climate change. Through his artwork, Williams aims to bring attention to these important issues and inspire others to take action to protect the planet.
Although he is primarily known for his acting career, Williams has received widespread recognition for his artistic talents, and his paintings have been shown in galleries and exhibitions around the world. He is widely regarded as a talented painter who is able to combine his passion for art with his commitment to social and environmental causes, and his works are collected by art lovers and collectors around the world. Whether he is performing on stage, creating new works of art, or advocating for important causes, Billy Dee Williams continues to be a dynamic and creative force in the world of art and entertainment.
Made internationally recognizable by his leading role as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen is also a painter, photographer, and poet. His paintings are highly sophisticated abstract works, using deft control of color and ghostly composition. He also incorporates pieces of his writing on many of his canvases.
As a celebrity painter, Mortensen gets away from his reputation and has earned his long, global list of gallery appearances. Mixed media pieces like Mother memory (1997) show a capacity for creating atmosphere, while serene pieces like After Darkly Noon (2002) reveal an appreciation of the process.
In addition to his painting, Mortensen is also known for his passion for photography, and he has published several books of photographs that showcase his talent as a visual artist. He is widely regarded as a talented and versatile artist who is able to combine his love of art with his passion for storytelling, and he continues to be a creative force in the world of entertainment and the arts.
Mortensen’s many artistic loves might seem to allow no single discipline to thrive. But he appears to be able to bring together all of these pursuits in balance, each informing the other. The work, in the end, speaks for itself.
For moviegoers, Sir Anthony Hopkins will always remain Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs fame. Also in the club of actors that paint, Hopkin’s canvas works give us a broader view of the actor as a human being, but few will be surprised that his creations are rather imposing and bleak, all arriving through brooding palettes with plenty of hard blacks to go around.
His creations are reminiscent of Francis Bacon, if the notorious artist worked in the realm of naive art. It is alive, dark, surprising, and even contemplative — often with clear reverence for the work of expressionist painters.
In addition to his painting, Hopkins is also known for his love of music and the arts, and he has a deep appreciation for the works of other artists. He has been known to draw inspiration from the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock, and he is widely regarded as a talented and versatile artist who is able to combine his love of art with his passion for storytelling.
All in all, while Hopkins’ paintings follow no rigid genre constraints, his consistent approach and striking point of view always come through. It isn’t refined, but at times, it’s powerful.
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