Art Professor critiques paintings by Johnny Depp, Lucy Liu, James Franco & more
This is not an article about celebrity painters like Andy Warhol or Salvador Dalí, this is an article about celebrities who paint, like Johnny Depp and and Lucy Liu. The difference between the two is not as obvious as one might think. I sat down with art critic and San Francisco Art Institute Professor Mark Van Proyen (MVP), this time to talk about art and celebrity, and to critique the artwork of some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. At first, Professor MVP was leery of giving credence to artwork done by Hollywood actors. He said,
“The art world is already overly obsessed with celebrity, and I’m not some kind of starfucker…”
In fact quite the opposite, the internationally recognized critic has built a reputation for calling out ‘starfuckers’ as he puts it, and shows no signs of slowing down. An ‘art world celebrity’ and other types of celebrities are proving to be harder and harder to distinguish, as MVP puts it, “Those two categories shade into each other, Bjork exhibiting at the MoMa in NYC is a case and point, the art world is absolutely drunk on starfucking.” So what is a celebrity I ask?
“A Celebrity is essentially a manufactured entity, with behind the scenes teams of ‘celebrity makers, from agents, producers, to networks of marketers etc…celebrities are avatars of their own packaging.”
But the critic is hopeful that we will find more than just branded content in the artwork of movie stars, he said, “What I’ll be looking for in the work of these celebrities is a break from this self-manufactured celebrity packaging, maybe they’re feeling confined by their public image and this is a way to do something that is about themselves, without the team of agents and directors trying to tell them how to do it right.” Let’s find out:
1. James Franco
We begin with actor, director, author, and apparent painter James Franco. As MVP puts it, Franco is not your average Hollywood actor, “he’s almost more of an actor, playing an actor, playing a character”. His latest painting exhibition this past November titled “Fat Squirrel” debuted at the Seigfried Contemporary in London, and I asked MVP what he thought of it:
“He’s trying to touch on some kind of deep pathos of people who live for the attention of others…”
“But Some of these are visual fart jokes, laced with a frosting of Hollywood irony…It’s a witless attempt at wit”
2. Lucy Liu
Moving on, lets have a look at Charlie’s Angel star Lucy Liu, and her ‘Seventy-Two’ series, done in ink and acrylic back in 2009. MVP recently gave a lecture on Asian art and openly praises Lucy’s work.
“This is really good calligraphy. I mean, the ideograms are of her own device, they are not signifiers that you would find in Asian art, but her brush handling, if not masterly is certainly very good.”
“The brush cuts the space with a change of velocity, the balancing of crisp and diluted edge is perfectly done, this is good calligraphy.”
3. Sylvester Stallone
Lucy Liu gets the stamp of approval from the Professor, and now we move into some very masculine waters. You may think of Sylvester Stallone as just a muscle headed galoot, but the actor has taken painting quite seriously and has exhibited his art all around the world. Bellow is his piece entitled ‘Superman’. I show MVP the Stallone painting I chose, and he says, “I have seen a book of his work where the examples seem to be more interesting.” And I am subtly reminded that I am a bit of a ‘galoot’ myself when it comes to choosing good examples for silly articles.
Stallone reportedly said of his Superman paintings, “Deep down everyone wants to be special”. Some of his artwork has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars and has hung in galleries next to works by Picasso and Botero. His celebrity bought him incredible access to the art world, as a painter though, Rambo might be better in the jungle than on canvas, but his work is interesting…
“This is a mockery of the character he plays over and over again. As a painting it’s a catastrophe, but its of interest for other reasons…it’s a kind of a satirical cartoon of his role as the world’s upholder of masculine heroic virtue.”
4. Pierce Brosnan (James Bond)
Mr. Brosnan began exhibiting his art and selling it to raise money for various charities. Professor MVP took a look at his piece titled ‘Fiji’, and gave it a very lukewarm reception.
“It’s a bit amateurish, the outlining of all the form is something I would probably tell a sophomore art student to stop doing…the real way to do this fauvist style and get the effect your looking for is to have the line be the point where two colors meet, rather than two colors contained by a line, in this case the magenta and the yellow.”
5. Johnny Depp
Arguably the biggest movie star in the world, Johnny Depp also likes to paint famous people. In an interview with Douglas Brinkley for Vanity Fair (July 2009), he stated, “What I love to do is paint people’s faces, y’know, their eyes. Because you want to find the emotion, see what’s going on behind their eyes.” Bellow Johnny painted Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, he said of the piece: “He was one of the people I admired for what he has done and how he’s handled it. Forty-whatever years of being a god. And he’s just cool.” MVP had some not so ‘cool’ things to say about Depp’s technique as a painter.
“I feel bad because I like Johnny Depp, but this is a terrible painting, the bisection here is amateurish…it’s an Egyptian hieroglyph with some cake decoration on it. The cigarette doesn’t look like it’s in his mouth it looks like a tail pinned on a donkey, Depp is using paint as a drawing medium and doesn’t really understand painting.”
6. Rosie O’Donnell
The Actress, Comedienne, and Talk Show host exhibited her artwork in New York in 2007. The piece bellow named “Eyes Open” made the art professor cringe a bit, I too found it a hard to look at.
“I’m Speechless….I suppose the best thing to say is: ‘it’s alright if you like that sort of thing’…The CBS logo eyes are a fright and-a-half by themselves. Maybe we can look at this in another light…no, never mind I’m done with this.”
7. Viggo Mortensen
The Lord of the Rings and Eastern Promises action star painted this contemporary piece in 2002. Actor Dennis Hopper described it as such: “It comes from the subconscious…you take it back into your subconscious and have your own conscious reaction.” In the intro of Viggo’s book Recent Forgeries, it is written: “‘I don’t know much about twentieth-century painters,’ says Mortensen, who operates on instinct and intuition rather than an intellectualized approach to art-making. ‘Because of how I was brought up, I go along with it for a while when somebody tells me about a rule, but eventually I always end up asking myself: Why does it have to be this way?'”
“It’s a very nicely organized picture surface, the color is very effective, the ghosting of some the images are painted with a sensitivity and liveness to the paint, I like this one, it could easily be hanging in a contemporary painting show.”
In conclusion: Along with being world class film actors, Viggo and Lucy are talented painters. Johnny and Pierce could work on their technique, Sylvester’s symbology is not lost on us, Franco’s humor was obvious but not very clever, and Rosie’s painting of eyes made us want to look away. In the next installment we will review paintings by world class musicians, Bono, Paul Mccartney, Joni Mitchell etc., and if you would like to see the paintings of President Bush and other world leaders critiqued by our very own MVP click here.