Top 10 of 2009: Entertainers Who Moonlight as Artists

Beyonce and Jay-Z at Art Basel Miami

Singer and sometime-painter Beyoncé, with husband Jay-Z, at Art Basel Miami. Courtesy

In the spirit of my Los Angeles beat, I present to you the most exciting art world interlopers to come out of Hollywood in 2009:

10. Sylvester Stallone is making a comeback, and I’m not talking about Rocky XIV.  The media has been all over “Sly” since he presented a group of paintings at Art Basel Miami earlier this month.  Though he has been painting for over 30 years, the show mounted by Gmurzynska Gallery marked first public exhibition of Stallone’s art, and his squiggle-encrusted canvases were snapped up to the tune of $50,000.  Though he paints in his garage, the action star is no hobbyist.  He told the Daily Mail, “‘I’m not just painting for painting’s sake. I want to be truthful.”

Sylvester Stallone poses with one of his paintings at Miami Basel, Dec. 2, 2009. Courtesy

Sylvester Stallone poses with one of his paintings at Miami Basel, Dec. 2, 2009. Courtesy

9. Jane Seymour‘s frontier-exploring days did not end when Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman went off the air back in 1998.  Her pioneering has continued, as she has taken on writing, jewelry design, skin care, and most notably, painting.  I always thought Dr. Quinn was kind of a rebel, and I wish that Seymour would channel that maverick spirit to bring some more edge to her Mary Cassatt knockoffs.

Jane Seymour at her easel, 2009. Courtesy Jane Seymour at her easel, 2009. Image Courtesy of

Jane Seymour at her easel, 2009. Courtesy

8. Starlet Kat Dennings has gained a following in the blogosphere, with her revealing, quirky musings on  Sharing personal thoughts publicly is not so unusual for her ilk of young actresses – the Mileys and Britneys all seem to embrace zany candor via Twitter and personal websites. But Dennings, unlike the others, also uses her blog as a platform to present drawings and collages crafted on MS Paint. While the images are a bit too charming for their own good, it’s difficult to resist the gravitational pull of Space Grits.

7. “When Art Imitates Life” is a new company whose business model is based completely on the phenomenon that art made by mainstream celebrities sells, and their mission is to help famous hip-hop artists create visual art. For its maiden voyage,  W.A.I.L. has worked throughout 2009 with Wu Tang’s RZA to create a “massive” painting that commemorates the rapper’s 20 year music career.  But RZA believes the painting’s message reaches much further, stating that, “It didn’t begin 20 years ago…more like 200 years ago…We’re about to rewrite and change history.” On January 1, 2010, the painting Victory or Death, will be “released,” and 360 prints will be made available to the public.

6. Lady Gaga aims high, and for that alone, I love her. She first caught my attention when she declared that her goal was to transform pop stardom into fine art à la Andy Warhol, describing her Fame Ball tour as a “traveling museum show.” Certainly the Haus of Gaga’s efforts to push the boundaries of pop music and fashion have been undeniably successful and thrilling to observe. But when I attended her gig at The Wiltern back in March 2009, I was disappointed to find her grandiose promises of performance art completely unfulfilled. Besides the occasional firework-spouting bustier and wheelchair dance/fake-blood explosion, her live shows do relatively little to disrupt the tropes of traditional pop concerts.  Of course, we have not seen the last of Gaga, and I hope that the level of innovation in her videos and live gigs soon catches up to her stated ambitions.

Lady Gaga photographing the London Papparazi April 17,2009. Courtesy Pacific Coast News

Lady Gaga photographing the London Papparazi April 17,2009. Courtesy Pacific Coast News

5. Beyoncé told the press that she “knew [Kanye West] was standing up for art,” when he stormed the stage at the 2009 VMAs to declare his love for her “Single Ladies” video. But what does Beyoncé know about art anyway? Perhaps more than you think!  The R&B icon has been making paintings for years, and even included a poem about the relationship of music and painting on her first solo album, Dangerously in Love: “I believe that harmonies are colors/ Every time I paint it sharpens my harmony/ Yesterday I tried to paint you/ But the colors weren’t beautiful enough.” But don’t count on seeing her visual harmonies any time soon. Says the synesthete songstress: “I think that if I start showing them to people then I’ll really start trying to make them really good, and it’ll take the whole joy out of it.”

4. Shaquille O’Neal, the self-nicknamed “Big Aristotle and Hobo Master,” does not rest on his basketball laurels; he is also scholar, pursuing a Ph.D. in Human Relations after earning an M.B.A. in 2005; a cop, having served as a reserve officer in Los Angeles, Miami Beach, Tempe, and Maricopa County; a rapper, with 5 albums under his belt; an actor, appearing on television and the big screen; and perhaps the Most Valuable Tweeter, performing “random acts of Shaqness” and dispensing “quotatious” wisdom to more than 2.6 million followers. And last month he announced that he is venturing into the art world, curating an exhibition at New York’s Flag Art Foundation, opening in February 2010.  Aptly titled Size DOES Matter, the show will explore the idea of scale. Shaq has selected 52 pieces by 39 different artists, including Tim Hawkinson, Paul Pfeiffer, and Jeff Koons.  Nothing but the biggest and brightest art stars for the 7’1″ baller, who told reporter Lindsay Pollock, “New York is the art capital, so I’m pleased to be starting at the top.”

3. I am bending my 2009 rule a bit by including Sri Lankan pop star M.I.A. in this list, since she has not exhibited her street-art-inspired paintings since her music career took off.  But she gets extra cred, however, for being nominated for an Alternative Turner Prize in 2001, not to mention her shenanigans at this year’s Grammy Awards. If grinding on a stage, in the midst of labor contractions, with a 9-months-pregnant mesh-covered belly, alongside Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I., and Li’l Wayne–perhaps the most testosterone-laden men in hip-hop–does not advance our feminist revolution, what will?  I propose that we start referring to the performance as “Pre-Partum Document” (apologies to Mary Kelly).

M.I.A. with Li'l Wayne at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Courtesy John Shearer/ and

2. This year, musician and producer Pharrell Williams followed Kanye West’s lead, collaborating with Japanese art darling Takashi Murakami on a sculpture called, The Simple Things. Reportedly fetching over $2 million at Art 40 Basel, the piece features some seriously high-end bedazzling.  Gem-encrusted “simple things” — a Pepsi can, a condom, a cupcake, a bottle of lotion, a sneaker, a Doritos bag, and a ketchup bottle– rest in the agape mouth of one of Murakami’s signature monster heads, Mr. Dob. Rest assured, the 26,000 precious stones adorning these humble items are serving a higher purpose.  In an interview with Vernissage TV, Pharrell explains that the gems are “what a lot of people need to see to be reminded of how essential these products are in their lives.” So it’s actually a critique of materialism and consumerism through the lens of…materialism and consumerism.

Pharrell Williams feat. Takashi Murakami, "The Simple Things," 2009. Courtesy Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery.

Pharrell Williams feat. Takashi Murakami, "The Simple Things," 2009. Courtesy Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery.

1. After collaborating with New York artist Carter on the film Erased James Franco, actor James Franco now claims that his two week stint on General Hospital is, in fact, performance art. Skeptical? Don’t worry, the Wall Street Journal has published an essay by Franco himself, in which he outlines exactly how he made the jump from mere acting to performance art. First of all, he once took an art class at Cal Arts summer camp. Secondly, he has familiarized himself with the canon of performance art, and has even met Marina Abramović. Thirdly — and this is the key point–he is more famous than the other actors on General Hospital. Franco explains, “I disrupted the audience’s suspension of disbelief…everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world.” But he’s not stopping there.  His final appearance on the show will be “filmed in a ‘legitimate’ New York gallery.” Franco goes on to ponder the meta-ness of it all: “One more layer will be added to this already layer-heavy experiment. If all goes according to plan, it will definitely be weird. But is it art?” Indeed, Franco. Indeed.

General Hospital's Franco (James Franco) and Maxie (Kirsten Storms), 2009. Courtesy Michael Yarish/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

  1. ART TREB says:

    Just because a person holds a brush does not make them an artist! They are repeating the work of old masters and trying to pass it off as their own. I was hoping one of these individuals were pushing the lines of communication rather than looking to get into a nasty gallery and have their picture taken.
    Nice try Hollywood. Viva Low Art!

  2. I love this post and how it questions, not necessrily celebrates these actors and musicians for painting and sculpture. Did you know Jeff Bridges also does painting supposedly? I’ve had a hard time finding it, but if come across something post immediately.

  3. Eric MacLeod says:

    I bumped into Franco at the Jeff Koons opening at the Gagosian in Wilshire. The gallery director was showing him expanded gallery space as though he were inquiring about showing there. Its dubious if/how these celebrities ought to wedge themselves in the art world, but showing up to these events speaks volumes.

  4. Martin Mull got into acting to support is painting. They are actually quite good. Anyways, this was an entertaining list. Especially the Sly’s work, brilliant!!!!

  5. Lily Simonson says:

    Yes, thanks for mentioning Mull and Bridges. I focused on more mainstream Hollywood types, who embodied the simultaneously hilarious/depressing collapse of avant-garde and kitsch (and were esp. visible/active in 2009). I did an informal survey prior to this post, and had the parameters been different I might have included the likes of: David Byrne, Marilyn Manson, Bob Dylan, Ron Wood, Beck, Sara Gilbert, Charlie Watts, most of the Beatles, Grace Slick, David Lynch, Kim Gordon, Vincent Gallo, Bjork, Devandra Banhart, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis Hopper, Daniel Johnston, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Waters, Joni Mitchell, Gary Coleman, Jerry Garcia, Woody Guthrie, Harmony Korrine, Gaahl, Andre 3000, etc. And let’s not forget Kanye and his showdown with Ne-yo in an art gallery: thanks facebook friends for the many suggestions!

  6. JJ Gittes says:

    Sly must be laughin all the way to the ATM. If his name was Sly Smith $50G`s would be a surreal dream

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  9. Joyce Owens says:

    …actor Billy Dee Williams,
    Star Wars, Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross is no longer a household name, and Donna Summer, the disco queen are both artists. She showed in Chicago on Michigan Avenue and he did a calendar and poster for Sears.

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  11. Lily Simonson says:

    wow Donna Summer! do you know where we can see images of her work?

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  13. Right on people! I LIKE It!!!!!

  14. Joyce Owens says:

    Donna Summer’s work is at Jack Gallery, so Google to find it (they have a link to a New York Times article on Summer and her bio, etc.. Here is a place that shows lithos and prices…

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  16. Stallone, an artist. theres a turn up for the books! Certainly a dark horse. Doesnt match up to Seymours though. Looks good!

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