Art Scene Profiles

From Performing Arts to Creating Art: Seven Celebrities Who Are Secret Artists

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol made art out of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe with his pop art portraits.  Today, pop culture’s hottest celebs make art of their own, showing their paintings in galleries and publishing their photographs in books.  Check out how seven stars are taking a break from fame to make a name for themselves in the art world.

Tony Bennett

Photo by Neal Carter via Today.com

When he’s not collaborating with Lady Gaga or performing as Tony Bennett, the 90-year-old crooner is painting under his birth name Anthony Benedetto.  Even in the midst of cross-country concert tours, Bennett keeps up the daily habit of painting and sketching, often drawing the views out of his hotel suites.  But his paintings are more than just a hobby; the United Nations has commissioned his artwork twice, and three of his originals are part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection, including a portrait of Duke Ellington that also belongs to the National Portrait Gallery.  His artwork can also be found in the homes of famous fans such as Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton.

Jeff Bridges

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-8-33-33-am
Photo via JeffBridges.com

In the 1998 film, “the Dude abides.”  On film sets, “The Big Lebowski” star Jeff Bridges abides behind the lens of a camera.  An ameatuer photographer since high school, the actor has been snapping behind-the-scenes pics of his movies, starting with 1984’s “Starman” and continuing into more recent hits like “Iron Man” and “True Grit.”  Bridges uses a Widelux camera to capture panoramic shots of film sets and selfies with co-stars, all of which are printed in stunning black-and-white in his photography book “Pictures.  Three years after receiving an Oscar for his acting in “Crazy Heart,” Bridges received recognition for his photography from the International Center of Photography.

Pierce Brosnan

Photo via PierceBrosnan.com
Photo via PierceBrosnan.com

Super spy James Bond is known for his arsenal of gadgets, but few would guess that Pierce Brosnan’s favorite tool is the simple paint bush.  The former 007 trained in commercial illustration at Saint Martin’s School of Art before he attended a theatre workshop that jump-started this career in acting.  It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Brosnan would take up painting again, doing it for therapeutic reasons during his first wife Cassandra’s battle with ovarian cancer.  Since then, he was continued painting, creating colorful family portraits influenced by Matisse and Picasso and selling his artwork to raise money for various charities.

Lucy Liu

Photo via LucyLiu.net
Photo via LucyLiu.net

Lucy Liu’s acting resume is full of divergent roles, from blockbuster butt-kicker in “Charlie’s Angels” to sober sidekick in “Elementary,” so it’s no surprise that her portfolio as an artist is just as diverse.  After experimenting with collage and photography at age 15, the Emmy nominee began working in other media such as painting, silkscreen, and sculpture.  Liu’s work has appeared in exhibitions in Munich, London, and Miami, and she regularly donates proceeds from her shows to UNICEF.  Gallery shows aren’t the only shows to highlight the actress’s artwork:  Liu’s own abstract art hangs above her character’s bed in the CBS drama “Elementary.”

Paul McCartney

Photo via McCartneyArt.com
Photo via McCartneyArt.com

Paul McCartney gained worldwide fame with the Beatles, and he remains just as famous today with his successful solo career.  So it’s no wonder that such a public figure would want to keep some things private, particularly his hobby of painting that he picked up in 1983 at the age of 41.  It wasn’t until 1999 that the music legend displayed his paintings publicly at an art exhibition in Siegen, Germany.  Poster prints from that debut show, which featured portraits of Andy Warhol and David Bowie, remain on sale today along with personally signed lithographs, with all the proceeds going towards breast cancer research.

Joni Mitchell

Photo via JoniMitchell.com
Photo via JoniMitchell.com

“I’m a painter first, and a musician second” aren’t words you’d expect to hear from a nine-time Grammy winner, but Joni Mitchell made that declaration during a 1998 radio interview.  The singer-songwriter attended the Alberta College of Art and Design, only to drop out after a year. Luckily, her weekend gigs as a folk musician evolved in a successful career as one of the most influential recording artists.  Mitchell’s love for painting still stuck with her, as she has designed her own album artwork – the cover of 2000’s “Both Sides Now” was an old self-portrait that Mitchell updated to reflect her aging face.

Norman Reedus

Photo: Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Autre
Photo: Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Autre

When he’s not battling zombies on “The Walking Dead,” actor Norman Reedus carries a camera instead of his character’s signature crossbow, but that hasn’t stopped the dead from invading his life or his work.  During a 2013 interview on “The View,” Reedus discussed how he encountered so much roadkill during his motorcycle rides that he began stopping to photograph the dead animals, creating portraits that would later be the focus of exhibits in Los Angeles and New York City.  Equally dark images, such as a naked actress covered in blood and “Walking Dead” extras in full zombie makeup, can be found in a limited-edition collection titled “The Sun’s Coming Up… Like a Big Bald Head.”  

About the author

Jenna Briggs

Jenna Briggs is a writer and editor living in New York City. She currently manages editorial operations for a global market research company. Her freelance work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, IdealBite.com, and other publications.

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