When art and cinema meet: paintings at the movies

 Aerfeldt painting in the short film 'Hannah Rosenthal' 2017

Aerfeldt painting in the short film 'Hannah Rosenthal' 2017

Artworks in cinema are like actors:

They might play the lead or just be given a supporting role; maybe they get a bit part, or are just extras.

If you begin thinking about art in movies, the titles seem to start as a trickle, but can end up as a flood... 

Here is my own little list of some memorable movies where paintings appear.  PS: I restricted myself to paintings, because otherwise it was getting totally out of control.

1. Art as the STAR:

Think Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, Mr Turner or Pollock. The life of the artist and the creation process drives the whole storyline. 

2. Art in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

Movies where the art has a key role in the storyline fit here. Does Girl with a Pearl Earring fit here or in the starring role category? I can't decide. But there are the whole gamut of art heist movies to consider, such as The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan stealing a series of paintings from a museum.

I can't help smiling when I think of In Bruges.

3. Art in a BIT PART or as an EXTRA

These are the films where the artworks appear in a scene or two or provide visual backdrops to the storyline. Isn't it delicious to play at decoding subliminal visual messages?  

Think the Batman movie where Heath Ledger's 'Joker' appears in front of a Francis Bacon painting, the actor's makeup deliberately mirroring the Bacon portrait behind.

And Ferris Bueller's Day Off where The Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago is featured (along with my special favourite La Grande Jatte).

There is Michael Douglas in Wall Street boasting of his art collection including a huge Miro.

But what about copyright? 

Well it's complicated, and to cut a long story short it is not often that well known originals by contemporary artists get to appear. Mainly because it costs a lot and is a nightmare to organise.

The Basquiat estate demanded huge fees for the artworks to appear. 

The director (and artist) Julian Schnabel, who had been Basquiat's friend in real life, refused to pay. His work-around solution was to create a series of totally fictitious works 'in the style of' Basquiat. 

In fact Schnabel himself had a hand in creating the works, along with the scenic artist. There was a legal team on hand to make sure that there would not be any copyright infringement, and that the invented works did not come too close to any existing originals.

On the odd occasion legal forgeries are negotiated.

Schnabel happened to be good at schmoozing with the Picasso family. He also wanted to use Guernica in the Basquiat movie (you can't say he doesn't think big), so made a deal to make a legal copy, with the agreement that the fake painting had to be destroyed as soon as filming was complete, and the destruction documented on video and sent to the Picasso estate.

On the other hand, for the making of Pollock, the artist's estate gave full permission to recreate the artworks from scratch, and scenic artists were used.

Artists are also asked to work with actors, coaching them on how to paint or sculpt or whatever the artwork demands.

Actually, several years ago I was asked by a well known film director if I would be interested in working on a movie with a famous French actress who was going to play the role of an artist. Unfortunately the project never developed, but, hey, I'm still open to offers. 

Here is a clip from the making of Mr Turner which includes the actor learning to paint.

Using local and less famous artists

Some set directors prefer working with local or emerging artists (as they are supposedly easier to work with), renting works or commissioning special pieces as there are fewer legal issues (as explained in this Artsy article).

One of my paintings that is owned by Artbank was used on the set of the Australian SBS series 'Carla Cametti' a few years ago.  As the artist I still owned the copyright, so the film makers paid me a fee and I signed a release form.

(The painting can be seen in the video below at 30:10.)

So finally, if you would like to smile, here is Jim Gaylord showing us:

TEN THINGS HOLLYWOOD TEACHES US ABOUT THE ARTWORLD

In short -

1. Art Dealers are Evil

2 . Male artists are cads

3. Regular people hate the art world

4. The Art World is fancy

5. Art people talk funny

6. Artists are scumbags

7. Anything can be art

8. Artists have rocky love lives

9. Art people hate the country

10. Artists will do anything for attention.


And to see and hear more about the Hannah film at the Girona Cinema Festival why not follow my Instagram feed (aerfeldt_art), and see live video stories, right as it unfolds?