Creativity Rules in the Lives of These Renaissance Celebs

Ron Wood The Ivy

There have been many short articles about celebrities who also happen to dabble in the visual arts. But I have to say, with the risk of sounding like an art critic, that many of these folks are not very good visual artists. Come to think of it, some of them are considered mediocre at their primary pursuit – whether politics (guess who?) or acting, while others are considered pure genius. In either case, the best of their fine art would be considered the work of somewhat talented amateur hobbyists by anyone who is a trained fine artist or art critic. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is wonderful for anyone to pursue the visual arts – what I object to is when famous people who are art hacks gain renown for mediocre work simply because of their celebrity status. The purpose of this article is to shed light on a few special celebrities who have not been heralded as much for their visual art, but in my opinion, deserve to be.

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo with Collage

This strikingly handsome actor who made many hearts melt as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is quite the Renaissance man. In 2002, Viggo Mortensen founded the Perceval Press to publish the works of little-known artists and authors. In addition to being a talented actor, Mortensen is a gifted photographer, painter, jazz musician, and poet. As far as I can ascertain, he is self-trained in the fine arts. This site has a lovely description of his visual art talents.

In the 1998 film A Perfect Murder, Mortensen plays a painter who needs to be surrounded by a lot of artwork, so asked he asked if he could create some paintings himself. He said he went a little crazy, producing 45 paintings in two weeks, which basically meant going without sleep.

“The connotation of celebrity art isn’t very good. It implies dilettante. I wouldn’t put Viggo in that context. He doesn’t have to paint, that’s not the point. I think he really needs to make art, really needs to.”Robert Mann


Patti Smith

Vintage Patti Smith

You may already be aware that Patti Smith is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist – and if you read my blog regularly, know I am a huge admirer. But Smith actually started as a visual artist, creating drawings and photographs in the late 1960s. More recently, she has expanded her portfolio to include installation. In addition to being a prolific performer, poet, and writer, Smith has exhibited her artwork worldwide. The Robert Miller Gallery has represented her work since 1978.

After 9/11, Smith began an extensive series of drawings on paper and pieces made of paper about the destruction of the Twin Towers. She also started creating photographs with an old-school Polaroid Land Camera that she then transformed into silver gelatin prints. Like her music, her visual art pays homage to great influences in her life – Arthur Rimbaud, Percy Shelley, Charles Baudelaire, William Burroughs, John Keats, and of course – Robert Mapplethorpe. Personally, I think Smith’s visual art pales in comparison to the sheer genius of her singing, songwriting, and literary talents.


Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus with Photos

I don’t know what it is about Norman Reedus – perhaps it is his prowess with a crossbow, bad boy charm, and sulking as Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead. More likely it is that whole six degrees of separation thing that fascinates me. He dated and had a beautiful child with gorgeous former super model Helena Christensen (they were an item from 1998 to 2003). And thus Reedus is connected to the late INXS singer Michael Hutchence who dated Christensen from 1991-1995. I saw her in NYC by the way, at Health & Harmony in September 2013, although she was with a girl, not their son Mingus. Whatever it is, this fascination led to my discovering his fine art.

Reedus is a gifted sculptor, photographer, and painter who shows his work in galleries in New York, Berlin, and Frankfurt. Reedus exhibited a fascinating selection of 30 road kill photos in an exhibit in NYC – these were apparently taken while on location for The Walking Dead in Georgia. He published his first book in October 2013, The Sun’s Coming Up… Like A Big Bald Head: Photographs, a limited-edition collector’s volume. The book includes photos from a maximum-security prison in Moscow and various other places Reedus has traveled during his career. A second book, ThanksforalltheNiceness: Fan Art From Around The World, which you guessed it, features fan art from the hilarious to the sinister, was published in 2014.


Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

I have to admit that I have never listened to Marilyn Manson’s (birth name Brian Hugh Warner) music, but I find some of his artwork reminiscent of Egon Schiele. Manson has also dabbled in acting, making his film debut in 1997, appropriately in one of David Lynch’s weird films – Lost Highway – and more recently several episodes of the TV show Sons of Anarchy. And of course his songs have been included on many soundtracks.

According to Manson, his art career started in 1999 when he sold a few 5-minute concept watercolors to drug dealers. Now that sounds like a story line that would be right at home in a Lynch film. His first art exhibit, entitled The Golden Age of Grotesque, was staged September 13-14, 2002 at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions Centre. Max Henry of Art in America said his works were like that of a “psychiatric patient given materials to use as therapy.” His opinion was that Manson’s work would never be taken seriously in the fine art world and the value was primarily celebrity driven.

Manson opened The Celebritarian Corporation Gallery in Los Angeles on Halloween night, 2006. In 2010, Manson collaborated with Lynch on a series of 20 paintings entitled Genealogies of Pain and they were shown at Vienna’s Kunsthalle gallery and published as a coffee table art book. While I would not say his technique is bravura, Manson’s watercolors have a lot of emotion and I don’t view Max Henry’s comment about a psychiatric patient as negative – many renowned artists throughout time have expressed angst, depression, psychosis, neuroses, and other mental issues in their visual art.


Martin Mull

Martin Mull

Of course I have to include a talented celebrity who is not only an alumnus of RISD, but also a Chicago boy. Martin Mull received both his BFA and MFA from RISD in 1965 and 1967, respectively. I feel that he is a fine artist first and a comedian/actor second. He is really good friends with Steve Martin, and they met when Mull was a young and talented fine artist. In fact, Martin is a huge fan and collector of Mull’s work, and featured a Mull painting he owns on the album he recorded with Edie Brickell, Love Has Come for You.

Interestingly, most of his paintings are rather melancholy, although there is dark humor in some. Mull works from old photos, both personal and found – some of them newsworthy and others very mundane. Many of his paintings are either black and white with nuanced shades of gray, or muted pastel colors, as if the colored photos have long faded. He has exhibited his work worldwide and is represented by the Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles.


Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell with Art

I actually found out about Joni’s Mitchell’s artistic talent by chance when I read an article published in The Los Angeles Times in 2010, where she claimed to be suffering from Morgellons disease. That caused me to dig deeper into her history and uncover other things about her past, including that she had polio as a child.

Mitchell showed an interest in visual art, poetry and songwriting as a girl. After finishing high school, Mitchell took art classes at Saskatoon Technical Collegiate with an abstract expressionist painter named Henry Bonli (1927–2011). She played music during this time to make some extra money, but she never intended to make a career of it. Her first love was painting, so she left home to attend the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, where she excelled academically, but felt like her art was inferior to her classmates. Although Mitchell is quite accomplished as a painter, some of her work borders on commercial or overly sentimental for my tastes.


Ronnie Wood

Ronnie Wood

As I have aged, so have my musical tastes, and The Rolling Stones are no exception. Although they were not one of my favorite groups as a young adult, I truly admire them now for their considerable contributions to the rock landscape, as well as their incredible staying power. However, as far as keeping up with what’s going on with them, I have to admit lately it has been limited to things that I read in context with my professional career as a health & medical writer. For instance, Keith Richard’s head injury from falling out of a tree, or more recently, the sad, tragic loss Mick Jagger suffered when his incredibly talented companion L’Wren Scott took her own life.

Ronnie Wood’s artistic talent was simply not on my radar, which I can hardly believe after looking at his work. A gifted artist as a young lad, Wood’s parents put him and two brothers through fine art training at the Ealing Art College. Quite the consummate Renaissance man, Wood never leaves home without his sketchbook in his bag, and listens to Mozart at his easel. His good friend, the rich and famous artist Damien Hirst bought him everything he needed to resume painting after Wood completed one of his many stints in rehab for alcoholism, which has plagued him for many years.

Edward Lucie-Smith, a well-known art historian, said, “Ronnie is in the top flight as a musician, but he’s also a fully trained artist – and it shows.” His amazingly detailed canvasses capture the world of rock ‘n roll in a unique way that only a master of both art and rock ‘n roll could create. They are as high-spirited, astounding, and ebullient as the music and bigger than life persona the Stones have created during the last five decades.

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