Not every artist explores other mediums outside his established space. Actor and performer Val Kilmer, though, wants to follow all his senses.
“All artistic endeavors have kinships, moments where instincts take over, or just plain guts or technique is utilized," Kilmer says via email. "Painting or sculpture is so relaxing for me because it's nonverbal and so immediate in terms of product. Film requires months or years including preparation, and same with writing. And theater requires an audience, but music and art can be as simple as a stick in the sand or humming a tune that contains your entire emotion in that moment. Or it can transport you out of the mood you're in, with equal speed."
Using stencils and occasionally text to create poppy visual representations of the characters he's portrayed over the course of his 30-year career in Hollywood — Doc Holliday, Batman, Mark Twain, Jim Morrison — Kilmer brings a new context to those iconic personas via his own perception of them. In the pop-up exhibition "Icon Go On, I'll Go On," his first-ever Los Angeles art show on view to the public Saturday, July 22, at Westlake's Gabba Gallery, Kilmer’s sculptures and representational and abstract paintings connect ideas that have been fomenting since he first began honing his craft.
Originally from Los Angeles, Kilmer went to Chatsworth High School, where he developed his talent for acting. At 17 years old, he became the youngest person ever admitted to Juilliard's drama division. In 1984, he landed his first film role in the cult comedy Top Secret!, and a year later followed that up with the lead part in Real Genius. His breakout role, though, was as Iceman in Top Gun, which led to opportunities playing memorable characters in films like Willow, The Doors, Heat, Batman Forever and The Saint. Kilmer spent 15 years developing and writing a screenplay about Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy (the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist), which became Citizen Twain, a one-man play he toured and performed at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2013. He’s now touring with Cinema Twain, a film version of the show with a live Q&A.
Although the stenciled works portray Kilmer in character as iconic characters, the film references are actually the least important elements for him. He’s exploring them in a context outside of himself, despite his deep relationship with the images, and for the viewer, it’s about how we see and associate with them in a space outside of where we know them — or Kilmer, for that matter. On the big screen, they’re larger than life and have memorable lines. How that translates beyond the movie audience is part of this experience. Kilmer says, “Icons are uniquely talented in the special interest. It's important to study the great achievements and the men and woman responsible for them. What else is there? Oh yeah, nature. That dusts people in a flash.”
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A series of abstract paintings on metal, with swirling, heavy pools of paint in different colors, are simultaneously dark as they seem to emit light. They produce a sort of deep sinking feeling Kilmer has described as their “black hole” nature, deriving from the perspective that matter isn’t matter but energy. He says his painting process varies, and sometimes he’ll get stuck on a style or a color or a mood. Sometimes he's just inspired by the song that pops on the shuffle. He also says that sometimes he sees a completely finished piece in his mind's eye and strives to re-create it.
Elsewhere, the show features 16 large, laser-cut metal panels with the word "GOD" painted nd on them. “Some ideas have turned into a years-long meditation on a single idea, perhaps think of the Japanese exercise of repetition, like my 'God' panels. Now I've painted hundreds and all I want to do is make whole walls and rooms with them. One day I'll just stop (I hope)," he says. "I also love how extreme friends' reactions are to the word 'God.' People have some pretty fixed assumptions about you when you show them a painting with 98 God panels in it. I don't think about God more when I paint the word than I do while making an abstract. I do think about God quite a bit though, and every now and again I'll pass one in the house and I'll say a prayer.”
"Icon Go On, I'll Go On," Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; Thu., July 20 (VIP and press opening), 7-10 p.m.; Fri., July 21, 4-11 p.m. (exhibit preview); Sat., July 22, noon-8 p.m.; free. gabbagallery.com/val-kilmer.
Correction: This post was updated to remove a misleading reference.