Looking at Los Angeles

Looking at Los Angeles | Top 5 of 2011: Entertainers Who Moonlight as Artists

James Franco, "The Dangerous Book Four Boys" at Peres Projects, Berlin. Installation View. Courtesy The Hollywood Reporter.

5. James Franco, how can we miss you if you won’t go away?  Back in 2009 Franco topped our list of entertainers moonlighting as artists when he wrote a book report on performance art and claimed that his guest star role on General Hospital would be his foray into the genre.  But since then, Art21 has facilitated his artistic growth, featuring his collaboration with Kalup Linzy in our New York Close Up series.  This year Franco even scored shows at Gagosian in Los Angeles and Peres Projects in Berlin.  He is even pursuing an MFA at RISD–concurrent with his PhD in English at Yale, because grad school is NBD right? With his penchant for meta, Franco unsurprisingly seems to be delving deeper into the realm of institutional critique.  He recently teamed up with art duo Praxis to launch the Museum of Non-Visible Art, selling non-existent works of art through Kickstarter.  Be careful if you visit the page—it might just blow your mind!

Phyllis Diller and Jeffrey Deitch in Diller's studio. Courtesy Paper Magazine.

4. Is there something funny about painting?  Groundbreaking female comedians Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers both refuse to retire or quit their day jobs–and their weekend hobbies.  Both maintain avid studio practices alongside their continued comedy careers, despite mixed reviews. Ever self-deprecating, Rivers bemoaned, “not one person in 10 years has asked me for a painting, that’s how bad I am.”  Maybe Rivers just needs to stick it out a little longer, as the more senior Diller recently enjoyed some art world attention, scoring a studio visit from Jeffrey Deitch.  According to Paper Mag, Deitch even bought one of her paintings on the spot.  Not so surprising–as the producer of television’s first art reality show, Art Star, we wouldn’t expect Deitch to shy away from the often problematic intersection of art and celebrity.

Rosario Dawson's "Misting Vagina" at Burning Man 2011. Courtesy NBC Bay Area.

3. Rosario Dawson tried her hand at installation work—and feminist art?—creating a giant misting vagina at Burning Man this year.   Though yours truly attended–and worked for–the orgiastic art festival this year, I did not happen upon Dawson’s piece among the countless large-scale sculptures and interactive works installed around the Black Rock Desert.  But the buzz from those who did dive into the giant vulva and complimentary balls and sperm sculpture was pretty positive.  Looks like Rosario made her own grindhouse!

Ringo Starr with "Face and Flowers." Courtesy Gallery 319.

2. Each Beatle has been known to make his own visual art, but Ringo Starr is the only one to venture into the realm of New Media, having exhibited his computer generated paintings since the 1990s.  Represented by LA’s own Gallery 319, which specializes in leveraging the cultural capital of rock stars such as Grace Slick and Ronnie Wood to sell their art, this year Starr decided to think outside the white gallery box, creating a piece of public art.  Ringo dedicated the statue—a colorful gun tied in a knot—to John Lennon, unveiling it on the 31st anniversary of his death.  Inspired by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s bronze “Knotted Gun” sculpture, the piece was commissioned by the Non-Violence Project Foundation and will tour schools around the United Kingdom, as part of a program advocating nonviolence.  Starr’s background in computer-generated painting came in handy when creating the slightly nauseating psychedelic design for the sculpture. Starr divulges, “I just did my artwork on my iPad, put it on my computer and transferred it onto paper with the outline of the gun.”  Though this might suggest a lack of aesthetic rigor in his process,  we still have to give props to Ringo for using channeling the loss of his friend and band mate into a strong message.  Reflecting on Lennon’s death, Starr recalls “they called and said, ‘John’s been killed. He’s been shot and he’s dead’…It was a bad day. But it was a bad day because someone took one of these and shot John.”

Jenni "JWOWW" Farley of Jersey Shore. Courtesy Gawker.

1. Jersey Shore’s Jwoww was recently outed by Gawker as a onetime artist.  The gossip blog uncovered a website from her bohemian college days as an art major, featuring charcoal drawings and acrylic still lives that range from pseudo-pop art (Family Guy of course) to academic figure drawing.  Gawker says their favorite is her still life of “a beach towel, stuffed animal, detergent container, and two empty bottles of booze.”  But how can you ignore her naked body covered in multicolored paint?  Move over Yves Klein!

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