We’re all familiar with the celebrity artist, and lately they are even cropping up in art fairs—it’s a contentious topic in the age of the 1%. Some musicians and actors are actually pretty serious about their painting, and some of them are not bad. Tony Bennett, for example, has made some quite creditable landscapes, but I can’t think of one celebrity hobbyist whose work is really competitive or challenging within the art world. And that applies to the likes of James Franco. That’s why I find some of Frank Sinatra’s work so surprising. Look at the date—a picture like this one belongs to its time in an almost shocking way—meaning that it’s hardly conventional but seems to be very aware of the most sophisticated contemporary thinking. Maybe it lacks something in professional polish or impact, but it could be the work of a very smart student, who had good ideas but couldn’t quite project themselves to the professional level.
What keeps me wondering here is why would Sinatra, of all people, want to paint abstractions? And what was going through his head that he came up with something like this? It’s worthy of Mary Heilmann, amazingly enough, as is this next one.
Oddball remakes of Ellsworth Kelly fall into the genre of conceptual painting, a topic for the future, but Sinatra actually came up with some genuinely interesting things. In this one the brushy bits are admirably free, but their combination with a grid makes something new—I’ve not seen anything quite like it—and it could be done again.