Looking at Los Angeles

(Looking at Los Angeles) Top 10 of 2010: Entertainers Who Moonlight as Artists

Tony Bennett, whose nom de brush is Anthony Benedetto, has painted throughout his life. Courtesy benedettoarts.com

Since last year’s Top 10 list was posted, we have seen the passing of two individuals who have greatly impacted both the art world as well and entertainment world.  Dennis Hopper died just before his retrospective, Double Standard, opened at MOCA this summer. And last week, rocker Captain Beefheart, known in the gallery scene as Don Von Vliet, passed away at age 69.  Without further ado, I present ten Hollywood stars who, throughout 2010, continued to carry the torch of this (often dubious) intersection.

Lindsay Lohan shops for art supplies in West Hollywood, CA on July 8, 2010. Courtesy Daily Mail Online.

10. Paparazzi cameras caught Lindsay Lohan shopping for painting supplies at Dick Blick Art Materials in July.  Sources reported that Hollywood’s favorite hot mess has been creating a series of self-portraits.  According to friends, Lohan was especially focused on mixing the perfect flesh tone to immortalize her tan–perhaps anticipating that her golden complexion could fade during her subsequent summer stay in the big house.

9. Antonio Banderas made his art world debut in 2010, exhibiting a series of photographs, titled Secrets of Black, at Instituto Cervantes in New York.  It may seem like a departure for the actor made famous by Almodovar, but fans need not worry. Banderas is staying true to his roots — as a Spaniard and sex symbol.  The photographs depict iconic elements of Spanish culture, and the series centers on “women’s powers of seduction.”

Cherie Currie carves a wooden sculpture of sea turtles using a chainsaw. Courtesy chainsawchick.com

8. Tinseltown introduced a new generation of kids to The Runaways this year, releasing the eponymous feature film about the 70s rocker-girls’ rise and fall.  But Cherie CurrieJoan Jett‘s onetime sidekick, has since carved out a new wild girl niche for herself–with a chainsaw.  Currie is a chainsaw carver, exhibiting her large wooden sculptures around California and online.  Maybe her bears and mermaids are on the kitsch end of things.  But watch the video documentation of her process, and tell me that the word “badass” does not come to mind.

Leonard Nimoy at his "Secret Selves" exhibition, MASS MoCA, 2010. Courtesy the New York Times.

7. In April, Leonard Nimoy announced his plan to officially retire from acting.  Four months later, his first major museum exhibition opened.  Though he has been taking photographs since age 13, Nimoy recognizes the difficulties of engaging with both art and acting.  He explained to the New York Times that, “the issue of crossing over from one territory to another — it’s always met with skepticism.”  Secret Selves, on view at MASS MoCA through January 2 2011, consists of 26 photographs of local residents who responded to Nimoy’s request to reveal their hidden natures within the confines of his photo studio.  When asked about his own secret self, Nimoy scoffs.  “Are you kidding? I’ve had 60 years of acting out my other selves. Been there, done that.”  Yet perhaps, in transitioning from actor to artist, the author of I Am Not Spock is revealing a different kind of secret self.

Tipper Gore and her photographs, exhibited at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams retail furniture store in Boston. Courtesy Christina Caturano for the Boston Globe.

Tipper Gore and her photographs, exhibited at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams retail furniture store in Boston. Courtesy Christina Caturano for the Boston Globe.

6. This month, many critics have noted the parallels between the recent politically-driven controversy over David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, and the culture wars of the 1980s.  And fighting in the front lines was none other than Tipper Gore, one of the so-called “Washington Wives” who lobbied Congress to place restrictions on music.  We may never completely understand the underlying motives of these cultural crusaders, but the issue must be especially fraught for Tipper, who has maintained her own art practice since the 1970s.  We know she’s not an entertainer, but visitors to tippergore.com may not expect to see photographs from the public figure.  Her artist statement intro page reads, “When I’m photographing the natural world, I feel connected to life itself, and share a desire to preserve our heritage.”  What would Frank Zappa say to that?

5. One contemporary artist who has been welcomed by the controversy-embroiled National Portrait Gallery is Tony Bennett.  In 2009, the Museum acquired Bennett’s portrait of friend Duke Ellington, representing the third painting by the singer in the Smithsonian‘s permanent collection.  Bennett, who paints under his family name, Benedetto, trained as a painter in his youth, and has made art and music throughout his life.  This year, the New Orleans Jazz Festival launched a new series called “Performance Art: The Musical Artist as Visual Artist,” commissioning Bennett to create a painting of Jazz legend Louis Prima.

Kim Karadashian poses for W Magazine's Art Issue 2010. Courtesy W Magazine.

4. Reigning reality TV princess Kim Karadashian became, almost literally, the poster child for art this Fall when she graced the cover of W Magazine‘s art issue wearing only a Barbara Kruger text collage.  True, she is not exactly moonlighting as an an autonomous artist, but there is something about her silver paint-dipped body (purpotedly an homage to Koons’s Silver Bunny or Gilbert & George’s Singing Sculpture) that disrupts of the typical celebrity-as-photo-subject position.

Commercially successful painter and singer, Donna Summer. Courtesy DonnaSummer.com

3. Disco queen Donna Summer has been touring this year to promote her newest album.  Summer titled it Crayons because “As a writer, you paint with words and music is the color.”  But the reference is more than just an analogy.  As reader Joyce Owens noted last year, the bad girl is a painter in her own right.  In a recent interview, she divulged, “The first painting I ever sold went for $38,000. I thought, ‘I may want to stop singing now.’ (Laughs). I’ve sold some expensive paintings, and probably sold close to a million dollars worth of art.”  But she works hard for the money:”I studied art when I was younger and it took me a while to get my own style…Realism is all around me, and when I paint I want to express myself beyond what I see and feel in the real world. I want to paint something that nobody else can paint outside of my head.”

2. While Sir Anthony Hopkins has been exhibiting in the US since he began painting in 2002, the Oscar-winning actor showed his art in his home country for the first time this year.  The show, which opened at Gallery 27 in London and subsequently traveled to The Dome in Edinburgh, is comprised of 50 landscape and abstract works.  The Oscar winner, who once portrayed Pablo Picasso, paints daily in his Malibu studio.

Jim Carrey contemplates his painting on a sidewalk in New York City, October 1, 2010. Courtesy Daily Mail Online.

1. Jim Carrey is not shy about his passion for painting.  In May, he shared images of his new work via Twitter, and gushed to his followers, “I’ve been painting! Each new work is like a child. I sleep in a separate room but it still has my full attention. I need a baby monitor.”  Carrey took his practice further into the public sphere in October, hauling a large blank canvas onto a Chelsea sidewalk and slathering paint over it, Pollock-style.  Perhaps finding New York asphalt an unsatisfactory atelier, he has since “rented space in Julian Schnabel’s studio,” according to New York Magazine.


  1. mel says:

    REALLY?, Let’s talk about uber connected celebrities cutting in on the space and funding that other legitimate artists should rightly have earned through their own blood, sweat and tears. Since when do famous artists get to cut in on the film industry? Come on Art 21, don’t guys have better things to write about then the commercial celebrity worship crap that this work is.

    Reply

  2. hi mel,
    this was meant to draw attention to the problematic nature of Hollywood celebrities participating in the art world.
    (“Without further ado, I present ten Hollywood stars who, throughout 2010, continued to carry the torch of this (often dubious) intersection.”)
    thanks for your response
    Lily

    Reply

  3. Pepsidancer says:

    This is outrageous. I have been selling my paintings for nothing on Venice beach for almost 20 years. Why do these people get recognition based on their hollywood celebrity but not someone like me, who has put blood, sweat, and tears into my work.

    Nice try Hollywood.

    Reply

  4. Christal Perez says:

    I agree. What a useless article. This is beginning to sound like the New Yorker. Kim Kardashian, really? Let’s not forget Madonna then who does children’s books.

    Reply

    Stuck Inside, You Guyz! Reply:

    Um, New Yorker is a great, respectable magazine. I think Miss Christal Perez is confusing it with, um, or US weekly? This link should help her out, in case she’s never seen it before.

    http://www.newyorker.com/

    Reply

  5. Miyesh says:

    I remember once in my favorite art library I saw these books of Paul McCartney’s artwork. It’s really annoying to realise how easy it is to get recognition everywhere with just a famous name. I’m still studying and the hardest part of considering art as a career is preparing yourself for the harsh environment awaiting when you finish. But I guess it just takes some paparazzi photoshoot of myself naked exposed in e! to earn my place on a library next to…Who was next to Paul McCartney that day? Oh yeah, Marc Chagall.

    Reply

  6. Ben Street says:

    Obviously this relies on a rather snide attitude towards (God forbid!) “popular entertainment”, but really: what’s the difference between “artists” and entertainers anyway?

    Reply

  7. Ben Street says:

    …and while we’re at it: there’s a world of difference, surely, between actors/musicians (can we please not say ‘celebrities’; thanks) dabbling in art making as a hobby (which is of no interest to anyone) and those for whom making visual art is an extension of what they already do creatively? Dennis Hopper’s photos and Captain Beefheart’s paintings are a sort of extension of their day jobs.

    And, come on, Miyesh: it’s really not on to make fun of Paul McCartney’s paintings. Yes, they’re rubbish (as are Bowie’s, and Dylan’s), but, you know…it’s Paul.

    Reply

    Lily Simonson Reply:

    Ben, I agree that at this point the difference between artist and entertainer is of course increasingly blurred, and often more a matter of how well the work translates to mass media. The whole avant garde and kitsch dichotomy is becoming increasingly messy.
    And that messiness is implicitly what I am trying to address here. I focused primarily on entertainers whose work for which they are better known (acting, music, etc.) is on the kitsch end of the spectrum. That’s why I only mentioned Beefheart and Hopper in the introduction – their art practice has almost eclipsed their “entertainment” work at this point.
    With the exception of Lohan, most of the list is about those entertainers who are exhibiting their work in the public sphere. If they are just experimenting with a hobby, it’s really none of our business.

    Reply

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  9. Hank Fontane says:

    Miss Simonson,
    ReallY! Have you no interest in REAL art???? I am one of those guys in venice who stands really still so people think hes a sculpture then when kids come close I move and people laugh and give money. This one time this one kid got really really close and I screamed SO LOUD, and he was like “aaaaaaarrrhhhggg!!!!!”
    It was awesome.

    Reply

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  11. Nice post!Incredible points. Great arguments. Keep up the great effort on Arts.

    Reply

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