See Gus Van Sant’s Major Muses in His New ‘Icons’ Book

It's a gold mine of images.

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix from My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant (1991) © Warner Bros Inc.

Andy Warhol used his Screen Tests to reveal the stars and anti-stars of alternative America,” Matthieu Orléan writes in the new book Gus Van Sant: Icons. He continues, “Gus Van Sant has his Polaroids…”

The book is a gold mine of images, artwork, essays, portraits, sketches, interviews, and first-person accounts, that offer insight into the inner workings of the iconic American filmmaker. Published by Actes Sud, it was created in conjunction with a major exhibition at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris that runs through July 31.

Along with behind-the-scenes shots of Van Sant’s classic films like Mala Noche, My Own Private Idaho, and To Die For, there’s a trove of photos and Polaroids of actors and actresses that resonate more than two decades later. Over the years, Van Sant worked with Matt Damon, Keanu Reeves, Ben and Casey Affleck, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, Matt Dillon, Minnie Driver, Robin Williams, and many more.

Keanu Reeves, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids (1983-99). ©Gus Van Sant.

Keanu Reeves, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids (1983-99). © Gus Van Sant.

The book is anchored by a wide-ranging, previously unpublished interview between Orléan and Van Sant in which the two discuss the scope of Van Sant’s work and inspiration, including firsthand anecdotes and a detailed look at the production processes of his films. The director connects himself to a diverse range of artists he cites as influences, including William Burroughs (who appeared in Drugstore Cowboy), William Eggleston, Harmony Korine, and Ed Ruscha.

In the book, Van Sant says he has painted his entire life, noting that the scene of the barn crashing in My Own Private Idaho came from one of his older canvases. “When I came to making the hallucinatory and dream scenes for these films, I told myself ‘Oh I want to use floating houses and wagon wheels and pitchforks,’ all elements that were in my paintings…There’s always a road somewhere in my work, and I have always returned to this motif. I remember a period when I kept painting a house crashing into the road. I don’t know why.”

See classic images from the book below.

Gus Van Sant, Untitled (Man with Hat) (2011). ©Gus Van Sant. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

Gus Van Sant, Untitled (Man with Hat) (2011). ©Gus Van Sant. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

Mala Noche by Gus Van Sant (1986) ©Sawtooth Film Company

Mala Noche by Gus Van Sant (1986) ©Sawtooth Film Company

Michael Pitt as Kurt Cobain in Last Days (2005) ©HBO

Michael Pitt as Kurt Cobain in Last Days (2005) ©HBO

River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant (1991) ©Warner Bros Inc.

River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant (1991) ©Warner Bros Inc.

Nicole Kidman in To Die For by Gus Van Sant (1995) ©Mission Distribution

Nicole Kidman in To Die For by Gus Van Sant (1995) ©Mission Distribution

Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids, 1983-1999 ©Gus Van Sant

Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids, 1983-1999 ©Gus Van Sant

Drew Barrymore, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids, 1983-1999 ©Gus Van Sant

Drew Barrymore, Gus Van Sant, Polaroids, 1983-1999 ©Gus Van Sant

Michael Pitt as Kurt Cobain in Last Days (2005) ©HBO

Michael Pitt as Kurt Cobain in Last Days (2005) ©HBO


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