We all have a list of favourite actors, musicians, authors where we follow their career in their respective industries and appreciate their talents but do you ever wonder what they get up to when we’re not watching? Well, we’ve put down some celebrity names who are extremely talented visual artists – and everyone should know their work.

DAVID BOWIE

British icon and musician, David Bowie is recognised for his contribution to the music industry with songs such as ‘Heroes’, ‘Modern love’ and ‘Space oddity’. His music is recognised around the world and even after his death in 2016, Bowie’s legacy still continues on, influencing contemporary musicians. He also had an impressive acting career spanning 50 decades, appearing in over 30 movies, television shows and theatre productions.

David Bowie was fully immersed in all aspects of creative expression, including painting. In fact, he had painted almost his entire life but it wasn’t until 1995 that he shared his art with the rest of the world, using a self-portrait on the cover of the album ‘Outside’. Following on from that, his first solo exhibition took place at The Gallery on Cork Street, London in 1995. The show was titled, ‘New Afro/Pagan and Work: 1975–1995’. 

His work was heavily influenced by artists like David Bomberg, Picabia, Surrealism, Marvel Comics and Egon Schiele. His work emanated German Neo-Expressionism and he was a fan of the German expressionist group, Die Brücke.

In an interview with ‘New York Times’ back in 1998, he explained that painting and music intertwined in his creative process: “I’ll combine sounds that are kind of unusual, and then I’m not quite sure where the text should fall in the music,” he explained, “or I’m not sure what the sound conjures up for me. So then I’ll go and try and draw or paint the sound of the music. And often a landscape will produce itself.”

MARILYN MONROE

Arguably one of the most famous Hollywood actors of all time, Marilyn Monroe also took to painting. Usually the subject of the visual art, Monroe enjoyed painting herself. In 1962, Monroe painted a red rose intending to give to the US president, J.F. Kennedy. Inscribed on the painting was a note to her lover: “Happy Birthday Mister President from Marilyn Monroe.” Finally, she did not give it to him but in 2005, the painting was sold at auction for 78,000 USD.

Although she did not pursue her artistic talents during her life, she has become immortalised in art as a subject in many artist’s creations. From Andy Warhol to pin-up artist, Earl Moran, Marilyn Monroe became a true icon in art. Art historian Gail Levin even stated that Monroe may have been “the most photographed person of the 20th century”.

BOB DYLAN

Bob Dylan began creating art during the 1960’s while recovering from a motorbike accident but his work wasn’t brought to public attention until 1994 with the publication of Drawn Blank, a collection of drawings and sketches Dylan created between 1989 and 1992 while on tour in America, Europe and Asia. The series of nudes, landscapes, hotel and bar scenes were later transformed into watercolour paint and gouache in 2007, which led to the Drawn Blank Series. The series was first exhibited at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz, Germany.

‘Woman on a bed’ (2008) by Bob Dylan.
Image source: https://www.castlefineart.com/art/woman-on-a-bed-2008/

Dylan’s art career didn’t stop there. In 2011, the Gagosian Gallery exhibited Dylan’s ‘The Asia Series’ which displayed scenes of China and the Far East.

His most recent work to be exhibited was in October 2018 at the Halcyon Gallery in London. The exhibition, titled ‘Mondo Scripto’, consisted of Dylan’s hand-written lyrics, each accompanied by an illustrated drawing.

PATTI SMITH

Singer-songwriter, Patti Smith rose to fame in 1975 with the release of her debut album, ‘Horses’. From that moment on, she has been a vital contributor to the 1970’s, New York City punk rock scene.

But her legacy doesn’t stop there. Not only has she published over 20 books (the most recent book was released in 2019), for nearly as long as she has been writing and performing her own music, she has also been making a name for herself as a visual artist. 

Smith’s medium of choice varies from painting, photography and drawing. Her drawings are often weaved together with her own poetry. During the 1960’s, Smith had produced a series of self-portraits which were inspired by Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. Each piece contained a snippet of poetry that reflected her emotional state.

‘Frida Kahlo’s corset 2’ (2012) by Patti Smith.
Image source: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/patti-smith-frida-kahlos-corset-2-casa-azul-coyoacan

In 2002, the Andy Warhol Museum showcased a retrospective featuring three hundred pieces of Smith’s artwork titled ‘Strange Messenger: The work of Patti Smith’.

In an interview from 2009, Patti Smith shares a memory of when she first visited a museum. “[…]seeing work by Picasso, John Singer Sargent – I was completely smitten, I totally fell in love with Picasso and I dreamed of being a painter.” Smith continues to practise art today, alongside performing and writing.

JAMES FRANCO

The ‘Child of God’ star James Franco, is a true Renaissance man – actor, writer, director, so it comes as no surprise that this heart-throb is also a painter. His talent as an artist hasn’t gone unnoticed, he’s had his work exhibited all around the world including, the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York and the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. Franco has participated in the Venice Biennale and Performa in 2011 and two group shows with his brother, Tom Franco. Oh, and he co-curated a show at the Victoria Miro Gallery. 

‘Fat Squirrel’ by James Franco
Image source: https://treasongallery.com/james-franco/james-franco-fat-squirell

But Franco is not without his doubts. In a 2016 interview with Jerry Saltz for Vulture, James Franco shares his concerns with being an actor-cum-artist and the obstacles that he faces: “I know just from my own reaction to celebrities doing certain things — that it’s so fucking annoying, and it is repellent in a lot of ways, and it’s just gross a lot of times. But I’ve done everything that I can to respect these professions that I’m interested in. I’ve gone to all these schools. I went to the art school that so many of my favourite artists have gone to. But when an actor goes into music, when an actor writes a book, when an actor goes into the art world — before it even is made, people are considering it bad.”

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