There are two types of people: those who have yet to discover Val Kilmer’s Twitter account, and those are completely engrossed by it. For those fortunate souls, it may come as no surprise that the actor best known for Top Gun and Batman Forever is also an artist, thanks to a string of tweets like the ones he posted in early 2014, illustrating a series of collages made from Richard Avedon photographs and magazine clippings. As he frequently reminded his followers, these works are “for sale.”
So does he still make and sell art? “Yes. Yes. Hell yes,” Kilmer said this week.
It turns out Kilmer just opened his first-ever New York exhibition, “VALHOLLA,” which is up at Woodward Gallery through July 22.
In fact, it’s not collages but painting that’s always spoken to the actor-artist—a medium that he first took up when he was three years old. “Sadly, I’ve hardly moved an inch from the original sand castle finger painting, slap the paint on and see what happens idea,” he said.
But he’s picked up loftier inspirations along the way. In a nod to Kilmer’s Norse ancestry, the show’s title is meant as a tongue-in-cheek take on Valhalla, the mythological paradise where Vikings fight and eat to no end for the rest of their eternal lives. Spirituality continues inside the show, too. Kilmer, a Christian Scientist who seems open to polytheism, has used the word "GOD" as a motif for years now to, as he said, “make one think”; it shows up no less than 16 times on one checkerboard canvas.
Another work, his favorite in the show, was too dear to give up. “It’s not for sale, we all decided,” Kilmer said of My Bleeding Heart, an enamel on metal piece he worked on “nonstop” around the election, whose title he said “sort of sums it all up.”
Part of the reason Kilmer has focused on art as of late is that his recuperation from his cancer treatment made acting largely impossible for a spell. But he also just likes the sense of play: Kilmer created a series of fish that are displayed prominently in the gallery’s storefront windows, and he'll be popping into the show randomly throughout the course of its run. “I'm an actor first thing in the morning ... so some sort of performance takes over or is sought out,” Kilmer said. “I daydream performance art till I'm choking like a Blue Man Group member.”
In a way, though, Kilmer the actor is always present in the show, thanks to his two “Doc” canvases, which depict him in his famous role as Doc Holliday in the 1993 film Tombstone. In fact, between his references to his son, the up-and-coming actor Jack Kilmer, plus his inspiration from the likes of Marlon Brando and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kilmer doesn’t seem to be shy of making cinematic references.
At the end of the day, though, it’s Gertrude Stein whom Kilmer modeled his studio practice in Malibu on—“she has to have a room with a beautiful view, but must sit with her back to it”—and artists like Urs Fischer, Cy Twombly, Frida Kahlo, Johannes Vermeer, and Yoko Ono whom he most admires. Ono even helped him get a gallery show in Tokyo in the mid-aughts. (And Bob Dylan has some of Kilmer's work in his collection, too.)
But Kilmer isn't done acting; he’s currently touring Cinema Twain, the screen adaptation of his one-man play Citizen Twain. He has two thrillers coming out later this year, and, yes, there might even be a Top Gun sequel in the mix.
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