Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sly Stallone the Painter and Other Celebrity Art

"Mask" by Jonathan Winters
The Sylvester Stallone story I remember most was one I heard on Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story about two decades ago. Essentially it was the story of a dock worker who labored all day and wrote Hollywood screenplays at night. After having written ten movie scripts, all rejected, he decided to create a character whose singular attribute was that he never gave up. This eleventh screenplay, of course, ended up as the first of many Rocky films and a career in Hollywood.

What I liked about the story was that Stallone had a day job but made sacrifices to be a writer by night as if to say, "Follow your passion. You never know where it will lead."

To my surprise, Stallone has had another passion this past half century. He wanted to be an artist. In fact, he has been painting an making art all through his career in Hollywood. In fact, if you happen to be in Russia during the next two weeks, you may want to visit The Russian Museum to see his current show there.

I stumbled upon the Stallone-as-Artist connection by means of website called Pop Life Art that featured the artist connections of celebrities. What sent me on my quest was Bob Dylan's Drawn Blank Series which was released this year. Years ago I'd already interviewed Jonathan Winters and Kurt Vonnegut as artists. I knew that John Lennon liked to draw and Ron Wood of the Stones was a painter. Who else were we familiar with who had a secret life as an artist?

Lorrie Davis, host of the Pop Life Art website has assembled an impressive list that includes links to numerous household names including Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Grace Slick, Leonard Nimoy, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortenson, Edward Kennedy and more.

The current show of Bob Dylan's sculptures -- Mood Swings at the Halcyon in London -- received mixed reviews from art critics. The suggestion was that a great performer can't be a great artist, that his fame should not interfere with the evaluation of his art.

This raises issues that would be worth discussing at greater length sometime. What makes art significant? How does one artist receive critical acclaim to the extent that his work is worth millions, whereas another's works only sell for ten thousand?

Jonathan Winters said that a woman was once critical of his $25,000 price tag on one of his paintings. "How can that painting be worth $25,000?" He replied, "Because it has my signature on it. If it said 'Red Skelton' it would be worth $40,000."

Is it fame that gives artists' work value? A Jackson Pollock original is worth millions. An identical canvas by an unknown student would be hard-pressed to find a wall to hang it on.

Is it the approval of critics that makes a work important? The endorsements of certain critics are what have made many artists famous. This "fame" increases their value. And when they get really famous, if they can do this within their lifetimes like Warhol and Dali, then they can also be celebrities.

What do you think?

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