A Rule Breaker

Billy Zane’s artwork reveals a free soul

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Billy Zane’s art begins with the spirit of inclusion. 

The award-winning actor encourages patrons to interact with his works at his current show titled “Action!” on display at the Speedy Gallery in Santa Monica through Saturday, November 26. The title nodding to the correlation between action painting and his cinematic roots. 

“I always tell people, ‘You’re not allowed to not touch my art,’” says the South Pasadena resident with a laugh. 

“You might even find an Easter egg of a hidden painting under one. It’s a tactile, pleasing experience, especially with some of the metallic paints I like to use.”

The applications have an urgency and force, Zane says. He balances the inherent masculinity of his paintings with the more feminine sense of beauty and balance. Zane says painting and acting complement each other, too. 

“The painting informs the acting and the acting the painting,” he says. 

“For the better part of 30 years, I had the pleasure of improvising and creating under pressure on film. I found that that same level of controlled chaos, danger and satisfaction could be found in painting. Especially with a show pending, you have to produce work that are legitimate.”

Zane’s raw authenticity in his paintings, drawings and photography have garnered recognition with shows in Los Angeles, London, Budapest, Milan, Miami, and Thessaloniki, Greece. 

Independent gallery owner Yiwei Lu curated the exhibition for the Speedy Gallery’s owner Atsushi Fukuda. Lu and Zane were introduced by mutual friend, Venice entrepreneur Todd Collins. 

“I didn’t know he had 150 (movie) titles to his credit,” Lu says laughing. “I introduced myself to him as a curator and he was introduced to me as an artist. I asked to see his work and I was just really, really impressed by it. They’re so free. It just seems like he doesn’t care about any rules. When I looked up from the artwork, I realized who he was. He was a villain in ‘Titanic’ whose character didn’t like art. It’s so funny because Billy is the opposite of that.”

The two met again at Zane’s outdoor studio behind Old Focals, a South Pasadena optical shop that provides eyewear to all the top films. 

“He’s created a clubhouse atmosphere and it makes me love creating there,” Zane says of its owner, friend Russ Campbell. 

“My home is nearby. Being part of the South Pas village informs my work with the nostalgia, charm and creativity the community is synonymous with. When not adorning the eyes of the hip and famous, the Old Focals family — Russ, Jessica and Rick (Barzell of the Cretin Hop, vinyl DJ collective)—screen movies, throw parties and have barbecues.”

The legitimacy of the work is evident and celebrated by experienced gallerists and neighbors at Bergamot. They are supportive of Lu and her activities and Zane as an artist whose works are easily identifiable. 

“I’m grateful for the response by the celebrated Bergamot gallerists like John Berman, Craig Krull, William Turner and Billy Gross, whose encouragement has been most generous while hosting tremendous exhibitions currently themselves,” he says. “I encourage everyone to come and vist all the galleries in an extended Bergamot stay.

“I’m most grateful to Atsushi and Yumi, who afforded an extensive and extended exhibition running from September 10 to November 26.”

Bold juxtapositions

His abstract expressionist paintings are bold juxtapositions of kinetic application and elegantly balanced color combination derived from both intentional and naturally occurring contradictory influences. 

“He’s a total rule breaker,” Lu says. “Not a lot of artists paint outdoors. He lays his paintings on the ground, steps on them, puts his fingerprints on them. Everything you would not want an artist to do, he does that.

“He sometimes drives over his canvases. He cares about the moment, which is cool. It really shows his free soul.”

It’s all in the name of joyous improvisation and sustainability. Zane started painting on the set of “Titanic,” Lu says. 

He uses discarded materials like coffee bags, patio umbrellas, signage, crates and recycled paint. He turns things that some would throw away into collectibles. It’s like new alchemy. 

“It’s like from garbage to gold,” says Zane, who is producing and starring in a film about Marlon Brando’s little-known yet impactful work in environmentalism.

“I seek out hardware and marine supply stores, which you can find in any village of any country or any town. I always ask about the paint they are throwing away in order to keep it from going into a landfill or local water system.

“When the palette being dictated by an unknown source, it is exciting to me. It’s surprising. I’ll always start there and then integrate elements I control.”

Zane is grateful for Lu, calling her “visionary and generous” for bringing his art to another gallery’s attention. 

“It’s lovely to be back at Bergamot Station,” he says. “My first show was there at Frank Pictures Gallery in 2010. It’s so nice to come full circle with a mid-career retrospective, ‘Action!’” 


WHEN: Noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays until Saturday, November 26

WHERE: Speedy Gallery, 2525 Michigan Avenue, B5B, Santa Monica

COST: Free admission

INFO: 213-248-4712, speedyartgallery.com, billyzaneart.com

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