Add Gus Van Sant, the Palme d’Or-winning auteur behind films such as My Own Private Idaho (1991), Good Will Hunting (1997), and Milk (2008), to the long—and growing—list of Hollywood celebrities who are crossing over into visual art.
Art, however, is not just a passing hobby for Van Sant: he has been making paintings since he first studied the medium at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1970s. Now, he is getting his first solo show in New York in September. The show, “Recent Paintings, Hollywood Boulevard” at Vito Schnabel Gallery, brings together around a dozen dreamy, watercolor-on-linen works Van Sant created in his LA studio over the past two years.
“It’s like walking through both Gus’s life and imagination,” Schnabel tells artnet News. “He put it all into a painting. Like his films and photographs, this is just how Gus sees the world.”
It’s not the first time Van Sant has shown his non-film creative output to the world. His wide-ranging body of work, which also includes photography and musical compositions, was presented in a retrospective at Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 2016, while he has shown his photographs for years with PDX Contemporary Art in Portland. In 2011, he also presented watercolor portraits in a collaborative exhibition with James Franco at Gagosian in Beverly Hills. But the New York show, on view from September 12 to November 1, presents a dreamier side to the artist’s work.
The exhibition is the result of multiple chance meetings between the director and the dealer. Schnabel, a longtime fan of Van Sant’s, first introduced himself at an airport years ago. Van Sant’s ability to traverse different media reminded him of another artist he admired: his father, Julian Schnabel, whose career has taken the opposite trajectory, parlaying art-world stardom into a successful career as a director.
“Whether it’s Laurie Anderson or Tom Sachs or my old man, I love when an artist feels the need to do something that might not be expected of them, but is free enough to take the dive into different worlds,” Schnabel says. “I really love that about Gus.”
Van Sant has devoted an increasing amount of time to his studio practice in recent years and was thinking about opportunities to show his new work when he happened to run into Schnabel again last year. The gallerist visited Van Sant’s studio, where he found an outpouring of work, with paintings layered on top of one another.
Prices for the works in the show are not yet set. A watercolor the director created to hang in the office of Robin Williams’s character in Good Will Hunting sold at Sotheby’s last year in a sale of objects from Williams’s estate for $90,000, far above the $1,000–1,500 estimate.
Van Sant has made a career of switching between avant-garde indie films and big-budget studio projects. The work in his studio suggested a similarly omnivorous appetite for painting styles. During their last studio visit, Schnabel recalls Van Sant asking, “Is it scary that there are so many different types of work here that don’t look the same?”
“I just said, ‘No,” Schnabel replied, drawing a comparison between Van Sant and the German artist Sigmar Polke, one of the most respected yet elusive artists of the 20th century. “That’s one of my favorite things about Sigmar Polke—the guy could make so many different types of paintings.”
“Gus Van Sant: Recent Paintings, Hollywood Boulevard,” will be on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery from September 12 through November 1.