Do Actors Make Good Painters? Here Are 9 Hollywood Celebs Who Have Turned Their Hand to Art, Ranked
Here are nine film stars who also paint.
Let’s face it: it’s hard to take a actor who paints seriously. Actors are free to dabble in music, politics, activism, entrepreneurship, but painting? Art is serious business.
Not that this has stopped those of the courageous acting profession from getting messy in front of the easel—often with surprising results. Some have landed exhibitions in museums, others have sold pieces for six-figure sums, and a select few have produced work stunning quality. True creativity, it seems, cannot be suppressed.
So which actors are good painters? Here, we judge the artistic creations of nine high-profile actors, ranking them from best to worst.
1. Lucy Liu
The paint-splattered figure of Lucy Liu is the first thing that greets visitors to her website. In an autoplay video, she approaches the camera and promptly lands a swipe of salmon-roe orange across the screen, then follows up with dashes of black punctuation.
The message is clear: Liu may be known for acting, but she considers herself equally an artist. And for good reason, Liu has staged a gallery show most every year since the early ’90s and landed an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore in 2019. Her practice spans photography (which she began in high school), calligraphy, bold expressionist painting, and collage, often using objects found on the street.
2. Jim Carrey
Throughout the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump, Carrey offered a steady drip of satirical cartoons: Trump guzzling bleach, Trump dodging the draft, Trump getting kinky with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Brash in both color and content, the influence of R. Crumb was evident in the line work and Carrey received considerable praise/backlash on social media.
In 2020, the Canadian announced he was leaving his cartoon phases behind and returning to a painting practice begun in boyhood—he also sculpts. Carrey tends to paint florid portraits that use uses color for shading and abstracts, the type one might pass on Venice boardwalk.
3. Viggo Mortensen
According to Mortensen, being an artist is (big sigh) “just a way of living.” Since stumbling unexpectedly into cinema fame, he has channeled the luxuries of time and money into longstanding artistic pursuits—launching a small publishing house Perceval Press in 2002 with other artists. Mortensen’s paintings are earnest and multilayered, often incorporating elements of his poetry and photography that blend into abstraction.
4. Sharon Stone
Stone endured a traumatic pandemic. Her response was to take up painting, which she did with furious abandon. It started with a paint-by-numbers set, but with ample time in those barren lockdown months, it quickly became a serious practice with a dedicated in-house studio.
In painting, Stone says she rediscovered herself, her heart, and her center. Her initial output was largely abstract, works of overlapping color and cut out shapes, but this style evolved and formed the basis for “Shedding,” her debut show which was hosted at Allouche Gallery in 2023.
5. Anthony Hopkins
Hopkins may identify as a sedate Welshmen, but his paintings are anything but tranquil. Haphazardly throwing together ink, oil, and acrylics, Hopkins creates intense, heavily textured paintings. The face is a recurrent subject. There are poly-colored quizzical faces, ghost mask faces, boney disjointed faces. Some have called his style surreal. Although Hopkins’ paintings have achieved moderate success at auction, his 2022 collection of 1,000 NFTs inspired by his best-known film roles was an even bigger hit, selling out in seven minutes, a record for OpenSea.
6. Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan’s first ambition was to be a painter. And the career seemed quite possible before he spontaneously attended a theater workshop in his early 20s: he’d graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art and was working in a South London studio. Brosnan’s paintings are an amalgamation of great 20th-century painters—there’s Kandinsky in his abstract backgrounds, something of Picasso in his heavy outlines, and Matisse in his balance of colors. When Brosnan sells, he typically does so for charity, with his portrait of Bob Dylan raising $1.4 million for AIDS Research in 2018.
7. Sylvester Stallone
For Stallone, there’s a throughline from painting to acting. Oftentimes, he paints his characters before drafting a screenplay. “Painting is where I feel close to a bare-naked truth,” he told Artnet News in 2021. And no, some whimsical Stallone alter-ego doesn’t take over; it’s a fight with the canvas and rest assured he knows how to work a palette knife. Stallone was friends with Warhol in the ’70s, but his paintings owe more to Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat with a style that bleeds frenzied ’80s machismo. Naturally.
8. James Franco
Franco really wants the art world to take him seriously—he once underwent an extensive Jerry Saltz interview on the subject. He might have MFAs from NYU and RISD, been show at Pace and Gagosian, but the self-styled Renaissance man is still clamoring after respect. He received particularly acute (and deserved) backlash for restaging Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” in 2014, but the references in many of his own painting are hardly less subtle: his early 2010s works appear like hyperactive Basquiats crossed with Cy Twombly. More original was his series of overweight animals.
9. Johnny Depp
During the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial, “Depp painting” trended high on Google with fans (or opponents) discovering the Hollywood bad boy (or angel) had painterly ambitions. Depp is a celebrity who paints other celebrities. It’s not some meta critique of fame; he simply paints his friends and his friends have well-known faces. His recent paintings of Bob Marley, Heath Ledger et al. in “Friends & Heroes II” at London’s Castle Fine Art have the aesthetics of photos edited on early mobile phones. Nonetheless, Depp sold $3.5 million worth of prints.
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