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Celebrity before artistic credibility

Would anyone care about the artwork of celebrities such as Anthony Hopkins if they weren't already famous?
The actor Anthony Hopkins's paitnings will go on display in exhibitions in London and Edinburgh.
The actor Anthony Hopkins's paitnings will go on display in exhibitions in London and Edinburgh.

A softly spoken Welshman sheepishly admits that he can paint a bit. He shows his paintings - a bit of Picasso here, a milky watercolour there - to a gallery. Apart from an interesting landscape redolent perhaps of his childhood - a farmhouse stands out against a blood red sky - there's not much to distinguish this from the amateur fare usually seen at all-encompassing open exhibitions in village halls. Apart from the scrawl along the bottom. It says Anthony Hopkins.

Hopkins, it transpires, has forthcoming exhibitions of his art in London and Edinburgh. The shows haven't opened yet and only a few images of his works have sneaked on to the internet, so it's a bit mean to write off the paintings of a man who won an Oscar for his chilling portrayal of the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter. But it is very, very unlikely that Gallery 27 in London or The Studio in Edinburgh would have programmed their respective exhibitions if it hadn't been for that scrawl along the bottom. And maybe it doesn't matter. Sure, the art is passable at best, but so, in a sense, is Tracey Emin's work in paint and drawing. And just like that famous British artist, you don't go to these exhibitions to be wowed by incredible technique. You go in the hope of peeking behind the public persona of the actor and understanding what he's really like.

Hopkins, of course, isn't the first actor or musician to bare his soul through art. It's usually an act of spectacular folly: Bob Dylan's excellent memoir, Chronicles, may argue that making art has been important to him since childhood, but sadly that doesn't make the work much cop. A recent Dylan exhibition veered from seemingly dashed-off Picasso and Matisse clones to hilariously literal watercolours. Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Pete Doherty, David Bowie and many more have all dabbled, generally unsuccessfully, in painting that usually looks like the visual accompaniment to a poor lyric.

Nobody, then, would ever see this work if its creator wasn't already famous. John Squire from The Stone Roses is perhaps the only musician of recent times who can really argue that his painting and sculpture stands apart from his famous band's two albums. And even he produced a piece recently that featured the words: "I have no desire to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses".

So for most famous actors and musicians, art is just another way to underline to themselves and their fans how interesting, important and creative they are. But there's one man who is proving that creative skills can be transferable. When the American fashion director Tom Ford, essentially responsible for making Gucci the label it is today, decided he'd like to have a go at film directing, most people suppressed a laugh. But Ford wasn't joking: he spent $7 million (Dh25.7m) of his own money making a movie that initially struggled for a distributor. But eventually the Weinstein Company picked it up. A Single Man got its worldwide release, won a Golden Globe and is now tipped for Oscar success.

Talent, eh? Disgusting, isn't it? If Ford decides to take up painting, he'll probably be an artist worth watching, too. But Ford is exceptional - not least because he was only famous in certain circles for his designs and fashion acumen. The circles, indeed, of actors and musicians. And whatever the reviews say, these people will continue to paint. Misguided or not, there's a certain narcissism that propels a Dylan or a Hopkins to the top in their preferred fields. And with that narcissism clearly comes a misguided belief that it's their creativity as a whole rather than their songwriting or acting skills that people are fascinated by.

Us? We blame the galleries. An exhibition by a famous actor or musician is box-office gold, and don't they know it. * Ben East

Published: February 1, 2010 04:00 AM

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