Actor and artist Billy Zane is a veritable chameleon. American by birth and Greek by origin, by profession he is both a critically acclaimed Hollywood actor and renowned artist.
Yet, as an artist, he is also making waves. His new show ACTION, for example, is a concept Zane lives, works, and creatively plays by, it seems. The show is one that puts him back in the spotlight this week for his latest exhibition ACTION at Speedy Gallery, Los Angeles.
“In art, ‘action painting’ is not dissimilar,” says Zane. “Just as the artist informs the canvas with a gesture, the canvas informs the artist with what their next act or stroke may be.”
Billy Zane and art as a form of action and therapy
Most people only know Billy Zane as an actor. However, if his art could talk, it would tell us a great deal about him as an artist. The first thing would be that Zane paints from joy, as he once stated in an interview for Hospitality Design. In the interview, he emphasized it was not torture. Rather, he categorized his work as one of happy accidents and controlled chaos. Furthermore, much like with his acting, it is “a meal cooked with love,” he says.
Part of what drew him to art was happenstance. It all came down to a simple viewing of Julien Schnabel’s Basquiat and the manner in which the older artist used simple materials like house paint and rollers to create abstract works on canvases laid upon the floor. Schnabel’s style and work spoke to certain sensibilities in the actor that then encouraged him to pick up his own brush in 1997 during the filming of Titanic. The remaining credit goes to his sister Lisa, who evidently invited a gallerist to his home to check out his work without his knowledge. The next thing he knew, he had a show.
To Zane, art seems to also serve as a sort of therapeutic medium for living out both personal and universal human trauma. For example, in 2020, he created a series called Billy Zane Art Therapy consisting of six sixty-minute series. In each, he invited well-known public figures to investigate and analyze the connection between the artistic endeavor of painting and their own mental health issues.
In doing so, the actor becomes a medium himself, holding up a mirror to the complexity of human emotions through the personal testimony of others and himself. This is particularly evident in his digital work in which the artist turns his lens on the inconsistencies and quirks of life.
Billy Zane and acting as form of art
In acting as in his art, what Zane manages to always remain is authentic. By nature, each feeds into the other.
Art and acting might seem like two opposing professions—art involving the externalization of the internal emotions and acting the internalization of the extern. Nonetheless, they are not the same. Much of Zane’s work, for instance, is produced in the great outdoors whilst working on a film. It is this, however, which enables him to paint with the same spontaneity acting often requires. He also uses the canvas with the materials found on location as he would utilize the props on each set. In addition, each requires action and reflection, the former of which is the main focus of his current exhibition.
The idea of ACTION, as Zane stated about his latest show, is therefore important to him in both roles and a major influence on his art. Indeed, on his website, Billy Zane Art, he explains the concept of ‘action painting’ as a form of improvisation. Many of the titles of his abstract expressionist paintings, such as Persephoneed and Prada You, are often as whimsical yet deeply intriguing as some of the characters he portrays. In these, one can perceive the underlying dialogue between the artist and audience in which he explores the inherent contradictions to be found in life as in art.
Billy Zane’s Greek heritage
The dual nature of men is perhaps second nature to him given his Greek-American background. Both of his parents are of Greek origin, his mother being from Chios and his father being from Mani. His family’s original Greek name was Zanetakos, but they changed this to Zane to sound more American.
Despite this slight anglicization, they raised him as Greek Orthodox, and he has often visited his homeland—even Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. “I am a grateful child of both parents. So far, 31 years an actor, 25 as a painter, and I happily inhabit both worlds. Each practice informs the other,” says Zane. In 2019, his work was also honored at the Thessaloniki art fair.