My father was not an artist, but he understood artists and athletes. He knew athletes from playing sports in his youth, and remaining a football and basketball fan the remainder of his life. He knew that college football players were often also on basketball, wrestling or lacrosse teams. He understood from this that an artist proficient in one art would most often be proficient in others.
We forget that actors are, by nature, artists. We think of them as celebs, or would-be celebs. When a film actor plays in a country band or writes a book of fiction, we too often consider such activities as dilettante posturing.
Yet such activities go far back into history. While recent attention has been paid to the art work of James Franco, Lucy Liu and Pierce Brosnan, Shakepeare’s fellow actor Richard Burbage Burgess, the first Hamlet and Lear, was also an excellent painter.
Recently I revisited the island of Maui in Hawaii. This island has a major art center in the old whaling village of Lahaina.
The Higgins Harte Gallery in Lahaina features among its artists the work of three film actors, only one of them still living: Red Skelton, Anthony Hopkins and Anthony Quinn. Probably the most limited in subject matter, despite their skill, are the paintings of Red Skelton. All of his featured paintings are of clowns.
Anthony Hopkins, the only featured actor still living, is an artist of many talents. Besides being one of the best contemporary actors, he is also a concert pianist and composer. His wife has pushed him to show his paintings, and the paintings at the Higgins Harte Gallery show an experimental bent.
But perhaps the best visual artist among these actors was Anthony Quinn, who excelled in both painting and sculpture. This Mexican artist shows the influence of such early twentieth century Mexican and Spanish artists as Diego Rivera and Salvatore Dali.
It should be noted that Quinn was a visual artist before he became an actor. After winning art contests while attending a polytechnical high school, he studied architecture with the great Frank Lloyd Wright. When Quinn had trouble speaking after having mouth surgery, Wright advised him to take acting lessons. Architecture’s loss was acting’s gain.
The painting of Quinn and Hopkins have been as much a part of their artistry as the guitar playing and fiction writing of other actors. It’s high time we started looking at such work with a new seriousness.