After decades of playing iconic figures in movies, Val Kilmer is portraying the same icons in paint. Doc Holliday from Tombstone, Jim Morrison from The Doors, Iceman from Top Gun and Mark Twain from Citizen Twain, his recent one-man stage production, have all found their way into the actor’s pop-up art show, Icon Go On, I’ll Go On at L.A.’s Gabba Gallery through July 29.
A July 20 preview brought stars like David Alan Grier, Billy Zane and Blake Cooper Griffin to the Westlake gallery to see nearly 100 pieces from Kilmer’s oeuvre.
“I’m thrilled at the interest and support from my close friends who really know this world, and am very grateful to be encouraged to do a show,” Kilmer tells The Hollywood Reporter in an email exchange. “I just love doing it, and people keep saying, ‘Keep going.’ What can ya do?”
The show’s title is a play on words from the closing sentences of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 novel, Unnamable — “I can’t go on. I’ll go on,” an existential assertion in the face of absurd nothingness. It might also be a summing up of Kilmer’s recent bout with oral cancer, which he kept quiet until last spring when he allowed in a Reddit Q&A that he had “a healing of cancer.” He says his current health is “fantastic,” and that art has always been cathartic, adding, “If I am not at it, making something, I die a little.”
Living in the New Mexico wilderness for 25 years, away from the hubbub of Hollywood, Kilmer uses acrylic and metal in his artwork, inspired in part by his early years in Los Angeles. “Millions of tons of cement, busted up, rusted up cars along the highway since childhood, and L.A., mountains of junked cars stacked,” he writes. “Looking for sculpture materials, I started buying car hoods and flattening them out, often not even painting on them, just the old paint and rust. So metal grew from there.”
His abstracts feature splashes of color on black backgrounds inspired by any number of things ranging from Hubble telescope photos to pop songs on the radio in his studio. As with his work in cinema, he says the key to both mediums is to be “honest, courageous, and challenging.”
Kilmer is hardly the first actor to pick up a paintbrush. Anthony Hopkins, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn and Sylvester Stallone are just a few of the many Hollywood stars who have made art their pastime, but not many have been taken seriously by the art world. “Actors and entertainers will often come into the art world with great enthusiasm, and often charisma or some additional element beyond just the art. And carry onscreen the same level of expectation they have from their own world,” Kilmer writes. “It’s innocent but very rude to the whole art community. I mean every secretary and intern in even a microscopic gallery has spent YEARS reading and viewing and talking and meditating on the great works as well as the very fast-paced world of today’s sprawling modern art.”
While art is a passion he has cultivated for decades, cinema remains Kilmer’s bread and butter. Due later this year are a pair of thrillers, The Super, in which he stars as a handyman in an apartment building that might be haunted, and The Snowman, in which he plays an alcoholic cop opposite Michael Fassbender’s homicide detective. “He’s just one of the best actors alive, and so kind and smart and all around kind of absurd in how perfect he is,” Kilmer writes of his co-star, adding some choice words about Fassbender’s partner, Alicia Vikander. “And that girlfriend??? I hate him.”
He hopes to begin production soon on his pet project, Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy, about the literary icon’s relationship with the founder of Christian Science. But his most anticipated project is the announced sequel to Top Gun, due in 2019, in which he hopes to reprise his role, Iceman, opposite Tom Cruise’s Maverick.
“No script yet,” he writes. “I’d love to be part of it. Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise have figured out a few things through the years! They sure know what an action audience wants and when they want it. However I might fit in would be a lot of fun, I’m sure.”