Actor Paul Giamatti Wanted to Be an Artist Before His Career Went ‘Sideways.’ Now, a New York Museum Is Showing His Handiwork

Like his film and TV characters, Giamatti’s drawings are “anxious.”

Paul Giamatti showing off a recent drawing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Work your way down the list of the 100-plus artists in the Drawing Center’s new survey of quarantine-era illustrations and you’ll come across a surprising entry: an up-and-comer by the name of Paul Giamatti. 

It turns out that the beloved actor behind all those hapless, cantankerous characters is something of an aspiring artist—or at least he used to be.

“A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist—a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator or something like that,” he told Steven Colbert on the Late Show earlier this year, where he introduced his recent handiwork. 

“All I can do is sort of weird, funny faces,” Giamatti said, holding up examples to the camera like a parent coming home from a paint-and-sip party. “I don’t really think too much about what the hell it is I’m drawing. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Giamatti’s contribution to the Drawing Center exhibition, titled “100 Drawings from Now,” came in the form of an inky, 14-inch-tall illustration on paper depicting a hairy goblin figure in a fit of rage. (Sound familiar?)

It’s one of the pictures he showed off on Colbert’s show, which is actually how the institution came across it. 

“Laura [Hoptman], our director, just happened to see it,” said Claire Gilman, a Drawing Center curator who co-organized the show. “He was talking about how he’s always been interested in drawing and, because of quarantine, he was starting to make art again.” 

Paul Giamatti, <i>Untitled</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist.

Paul Giamatti, Untitled (2020). Courtesy of the artist.

“He’s been drawing these really kind of… anxious figures,” Gilman added, explaining that they reached out and asked the actor to participate shortly thereafter. “We just thought it was another angle that was really interesting to think about—other people that are making drawings during this time.”

Giamatti donated the artwork to the Drawing Center, where it’s already sold. They did not reveal the price, but the actor joked on Colbert that one of his pieces would “probably fetch you 37 cents on eBay.” (It was probably a little more than that.)

“I hadn’t drawn in about 25 or 30 years,” the actor said in a statement included in the exhibition’s catalogue. “It was my first love. The simplicity of a black line in a white space gave me the freedom, focus, and peace of that love again.”

It’s a good thing for the Drawing Center that exhibition openings are shelved for the moment—or else it would have had to be very careful about what wine they served at the party.

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