The secret world of Val Art: Val Kilmer’s burgeoning art that you never saw coming.
We know him as the brilliant actor who won our hearts in numerous unforgettable roles. He’s the gun-slinging dentist Doc Holliday in Tombstone, the poetic genius Jim Morrison in The Doors, Maverick’s rival-turned-ally Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazanski in Top Gun, the bank robber Chris Shiherlis in Heat.
Kilmer not only attended the prestigious art school Juilliard, but at the time he entered, he was the youngest student ever admitted to the drama department. He made his feature debut in the comedy Top Secret! (1984), quickly followed by Real Genius (1985) and Top Gun (1986). It’s almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around the scope of acting partners he’s worked with since, starring alongside the industry’s biggest names, then and now — Angelina Jolie, Meg Ryan, Christian Slater, Marlon Brando, Michael Douglas, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis, Brad Pitt, Graham Greene, Kim Basinger, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Jon Voight, Jim Carrey, 50 Cent, Ethan Hawke, Dana Delany, Denzel Washington, Powers Boothe, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, Anthony Hopkins, Charlton Heston, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, George C. Scott, Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, and we’re just getting started.
Kilmer’s acting career spans more than three busy decades. A cinematic chameleon, he has swung from a giant crow’s cage as Madmardigan in Willow (1988), mastered the seduction of the iconic bat suit (and Nicole Kidman) in Batman Forever (1995) and bantered with Robert Downey Jr. as Gay Perry in the comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).
Legendary Hollywood directors Ron Howard (Willow and The Missing), Francis Ford Coppala (Twixt), Michael Mann (Heat), David Mamet (Spartan), Tony Scott (True Romance and Déjà Vu), and Oliver Stone (The Doors and Alexander) have sought out Kilmer, securing his indelible presence in Tinseltown’s lights.
Kilmer and I met in 2002 while I worked as a consultant on the set of Wonderland, a film in which he portrayed my real-life “boyfriend” (abuser) from the early 1980s. Kilmer and I had a mutual respect for one another. I suppose he was amazed I was still alive; meanwhile, I was in awe of his uncanny ability to so accurately resurrect a complex character. I admired Kilmer’s kindness and generosity toward cast, crew, fans and a number of the same charities I cared about. I’ve followed his work ever since.
Dawn Schiller, Josh Lucas, Lisa Kudrow, Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Natasha Gregson Wagner, James Cox and Janeane Garofalo at the premiere of Wonderland (2003) / Getty Images
Kilmer has told fans, “I make movies at studios and out in the world. Art I make at home. It’s so intimate and private. It’s my experience and no one else’s, like my poetry, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. Movies are made by sometimes as many as 100 people. Art’s just a battle with one’s own inspiration and courage and labor.”
You’ve seen him on-screen. Now I’d like to invite you to the little-known world of Val Art.
Welcome to Val Art
In 1872, the French novelist George Sand wrote that the artist has a “duty to find an adequate expression to convey it to as many souls as possible.” Sand believed that to create is nothing without an audience, for without them, who would be provoked and inspired? While Kilmer creates his art in the serenity of his home, he actively shares his work and inspires the public to make art as well.
From thought-provoking abstracts to stencil and paint pop-art designs featuring the words “GOD” and “LOVE” and images of Batman, Mark Twain, Jim Morrison the “Lizard King,” and Doc Holliday, Kilmer offers a bright new pallet of visual art, which he’s opened to the public at his Val Art, Ltd website.
On Cyber Monday last November, Kilmer shared a VALentine’s Day Love Art Challenge. He asked folks to create their own art around a “LOVE” stencil, post the results on Instagram and tag him @valkilmerofficial using the hashtag #onelovevk. He wrote, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Instagram flooded with LOVE!” and promised to share their pieces and a “winning” work of art this Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2017, on which day he will send “more love!”
Now here, just in time for Valentine’s Day (playfully referred to by Val as VALentine’s Day), I sit down with Kilmer to explore the magnificent madness behind his burgeoning art.
DS: Aside from acting, when did you first become interested in creating art?
VK: My whole life. My little brother, who we lost in the mid ’70s, was a genius artist and a massive talent in all the arts. He was my biggest inspiration to simply create, no matter what the vision or materials. Also a bizarre amount of talent surrounded me in my teachers and classmates. And my school, Berkeley Hall School, had a wonderful balance of sports and arts in addition to the normal curriculum.
“Guess who?” Val wrote to his Facebook fans / Courtesy of Val Kilmer
DS: Can you describe the various visual artworks you’ve produced in the past?
VK: I’ve always made sculpture. I was privileged to own several miles of the Pecos River, for example, and if I sat by the river to pray, as I often did, eventually there would be a stack of rocks or a particularly beautiful long rock would be left vertical — or just a pile creating a sign or post — what they call in Africa and elsewhere a cairn. I’ll stack sticks and glue them together à la my friend Andy Goldsworthy. If I don’t have a painting in mind, I’ll cut images out of magazines and make collages.
I did a whole photo collage project for over a year and toured the world with it with a friend, Ali Alborzi, based on exclusive photos from a little film called Wonderland where we did Peter Beard–like pieces with writing and even props from the film. My best piece out of that used six handguns I wired onto the canvas. I had a huge piece with AR-15s.
DS: What kind of art do you currently create? What are your themes?
VK: I have several new styles, some drawing on old interests or influences from street art.
Lots of abstracts I first do in enamel and spray paint and chemicals. Then I occasionally add images or oil paintings of figures using the computer. Then enlarge and print. Rinse. And repeat…
DS: What inspires your abstract pieces?
VK: Sean Lennon, who is a brilliant artist, observed my abstracts are a “hypnotic combination of biology and spirituality.” I’ll take that…
“Sean Lennon, who is a brilliant artist, observed my abstracts are a ‘hypnotic combination of biology and spirituality.’ I’ll take that…”
DS: What materials do you use for the different pieces?
VK: I’ll make sculpture out of sand on the beach, dead cactus skeletons at home, tumbleweeds, out-of-work actors… Whatever’s lying around…
DS: Can you talk about your artistic process for your abstracts?
VK: It varies as often as my mood. They are all intuitive. Sometimes the weather might dictate the pace or color. Mood. The canvas. Some panels of metal I’ll leave out for a couple years and rust a bit or let them get covered with sea salt from the ocean. Sometimes there is a scratch pattern started from the manufacturer and I’ll increase it or it will inspire a movement. Sometimes I’ll just drip a color and see what happens.
Some pieces come together very quickly and I can finish in one day. Some get worked on for months. The worst is overworking a piece — just like a relationship! Sometimes one should give it space… Some of my favorites have come together very quickly and I am satisfied with the image and I resist messing it up or imposing on it. Abstracts are all emotion and sometimes I remember to stand back and see if it captured my intention and if it has — basta!
A print of one of Kilmer’s “GOD” paintings currently available in his shop / Courtesy of Val Kilmer
DS: Recently on The Talk, Sharon Osbourne showed the audience a beautiful “GOD” piece of art you gave Ozzy. Why did you select that piece for him?
VK: Actually they bought it from my friend Fahey/Klein gallery that usually sell the best photographs in the country. He happened to have a piece of mine up and they both loved it. So I renamed it “OZZY’S GOD” and I’m going to do some prints of it.
DS: You created the “Golden Tumbleweed.” Can you describe that piece and what inspired you?
VK: I recently made a tumbleweed sculpture that I first bronzed then covered in gold. Made history in that the founders had never bronzed anything as thin as a tumbleweed. The effect is quite strong and I’m very proud of it.
DS: Overall, what message do you want your art to convey to the world?
VK: Art, if it’s of any value to me, captures a unique moment of fantasy or reality. And art invites us to pause and reflect on both of those worlds with new eyes. The art that inspires me has soul and hope and perhaps a glimpse at eternity.
Get Your Hands on Kilmer’s Art
On his Facebook page, Kilmer offers fans a showing of his latest artwork including abstracts, or his Daily Abstraction, as he calls it, or pop-art pieces signed with memorable movie quotes added. His artwork can be found for sale at his website, where you might also be able to view some pieces previously sold. The selection of artwork available is vast (abstracts, pop-art, prints and more), with a wide price range that makes his work accessible to all his fans.
Also available on the website is a compilation of Kilmer’s artwork in the form of a coffee table book titled GOD. He calls it “a small book with a big idea.” With 125 signed and numbered limited first editions available, the book contains 78 favorite full-color reproductions of original artworks Kilmer created between 2014 and 2016 in his Malibu home. If this book is anything like the brilliance of his Wonderland collage art book, fans have much to be excited for.
Did I mention he’s also published two volumes of poetry in the past that blew folks away? My Edens After Burns (1988) and Jack’s Gandhi (2007) are both out of print and rare.
And now Kilmer’s artwork is on the move. On his Facebook page he alerts fans that he and his team are in the midst of securing possible shows at “all the hot spots,” from New York City and Cincinnati to Dubai and Tokyo. “Lord knows we need some laughs these days,” he says as he mentions the plans to take his art on the road. Kilmer does believe in fun (“Sure! Sounds fun!” was his response when I requested this interview).
But his travels are not intended to bring only artworks to the broader public. Kilmer’s greater passion lies in bringing “lots of movement — lots of laughs” to as many folks in as many cities as possible via what he calls his “little film, Cinema Twain.”
Kilmer Presents Citizen Twain
If you thought visual art was all that Kilmer was up to these days, think again (and again and again). He’s currently presenting another of his theatrical passions: his one-man play Citizen Twain. Written, produced, directed and performed by Val Kilmer for the stage in 2012, Citizen Twain brings to life the genius of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Kilmer’s Twain is comedic and tender as he provokingly examines the past and present political climates as well as his life — his childhood, his family, commonalities of 20th-century and contemporary social justice, his imaginary relationship with renowned author Mary Baker Eddy and thoughts on God. The sharp wit of Twain is bathed in raw emotion, leaving Citizen Twain’s audience contemplating deep truths. I’ve seen the performance twice, and still I want to go back for more.
Kilmer brought the film version of Citizen Twain back to audiences last fall with a fan-friendly twist. The show begins with a personal appearance by Kilmer, who introduces the 90-minute film screening. Afterward he conducts a lengthy question-and-answer period. VIP ticket holders get to meet Kilmer, chat and take photos, a fan’s dream. Tickets are on sale through his website. (Students, keep an eye out for specially priced options.)
February showings are as follows:
- Thursday, February 9, at 7:30 p.m., Landmark Regent, Los Angeles, CA
- Monday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m., Oxnard Levity Live, Oxnard, CA
- Thursday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m., Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA
- Friday, February 24, at 7:30 p.m., Long Beach City College / Liberal Arts Campus Auditorium (Bldg. J)
- Saturday, February 25, at 7:30 p.m., Long Beach City College / Liberal Arts Campus Auditorium (Bldg. J)
After the film, Kilmer also discusses his plans to expand Citizen Twain into what he calls his life’s masterpiece, the production of his original screenplay, Mark Twain & Mary Baker Eddy. You can find opportunities to be a part of the production at the film’s website.
Life and art certainly intersect in a grand way with Val Kilmer, and there appears to be no end to his creativity — a nonstop synaptic firing of electricity, focus and spirit. It’s a world he welcomes us all to enter, observe and benefit from.
Kilmer is usually reticent to ever highlight any of his charitable acts, but the nonprofit Get Lit, an organization that uses poetry to empower youth and inspire communities, is one he firmly stands behind. Taking his commitment to support youth further, Kilmer is in the process of starting a nonprofit himself, the Val Kilmer Initiative, which will inspire education through the performing arts.
But what does a man who offers so many gifts receive in return?
Kilmer once wrote me, “…anything is possible with love.” Maybe this is Kilmer’s gift in return — the gratification of having sparked deep thought and exploration of folks’ own artistic souls, awakening in them the limitless potential of love.
Throughout the years, Kilmer has been steadfast in his kindness and expressions of love through all of his art forms. For him, love is not only an artist’s theme; love is everything.
Seemingly never outside his comfort zone, Kilmer rides the radical waves of life with art and grace. Always sending the message of LOVE to all who stumble upon his artistic vision, he beckons us to open our minds and, especially, our hearts.