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Adrien Brody On Painting Booze, Bullets and Big Macs

The cerebral actor is riding high after debuting his political pop-art paintings at Art Basel Miami

Oscar-winner Adrien Brody can add collectible artist to his long list of accomplishments. The 42-year-old entertainer, who skyrocketed to fame with his leading role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, debuted his artwork—a series titled “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, and Handguns”—this month at Art Basel Miami. Here, Brody, who will next star in screenwriter Brian Tucker’s action-thriller Expiration, talks about violence in media, art-world pressures and finding inspiration in a fortune cookie.

What’s your takeaway after showing your art for the first time at Art Basel Miami Beach?

It was exciting and exhausting. I had a really lovely time connecting with friends and sharing my thoughts about the work. Taking the leap of being willing to show it was a very positive experience. I got to spend a lot of time with some artists there that I like—it was very exciting, all in all.

What do you think of the high-stakes art world, now that you’re in the midst of it—overwhelming at all?

In general, I have a certain degree of pressure that I’m accustomed to with my normal work. Showing my work at a film premiere, for instance, where I go and work and collaborate with lots of people and it’s put together and on display. So there’s a certain degree of pressure there that I’m used to. My ambition is to paint and to have a creative outlet that I’m autonomous with. To have the freedom to continue to evolve as an artist and that’s really been the goal. These are the first steps.

A piece from “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns”

A piece from “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns”

Such a compelling name for the series, “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns.” What does it mean?

It began as an amusing take on how fast food in our culture has gone beyond just that and infiltrated so many other aspects and elements of our lives. We have the belief that in general things should be relatively accessible, instantly gratifying. It evolved into a reference of how violent imagery and violence are unfortunately as commonplace as fast food in our society. What we’re witnessing in reality, in our imaginations, in the media, in entertainment is an overwhelming amount of violent imagery.

I try to incorporate some humor in the depictions, as well. For instance, I did an installation at the show with stuffed animals in basically a street homicide scene, which I call “Family.” What I’m referencing is that there are so many children, specifically in urban environments, who do not have a family to go home to. And this unfortunately results in them falling victim to finding families on the street, or a family structure within the gang culture. Those codes become the rules of the house. The consequences are not evident and ultimately this cycle leads to incarceration, drug addiction, alcoholism, violence. The depiction shows the loss of innocence—the purity of the stuffed animals, representing children, the smaller ones looking up to the larger ones, there’s a degree of playfulness in it but it’s also referencing something that’s horrific and tragic.

How do you find inspiration for your artwork?

It varies. The theme led to the greater meditation on the subject. I have lots of inspiration—from every encounter, things that I read, people that I meet, something that was said, a fortune cookie, stubbing my toe, paint dripping on my shoe. I’m constantly finding an idea that leads to a new idea. I love that. What’s exciting is to be able to apply it.

In this case, I’ve homed into something that I feel is very much in the zeitgeist and speaks to an urban environment and speaks to images and imagery that I feel were a part of my upbringing in New York, as well.

A piece from “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns”

A piece from “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns”

What’s up next for Adrien Brody, the painter?

I’m about to have a conference call and then I’m headed to the art store to get some more canvas because I feel like painting right now. I was at a friend’s house for a party and he had a really beautiful display of flowers that was floating in water. That’s been on my mind to paint since then—and also to kind of maybe purge a bit of the shadowy imagery that I’ve depicted in the show. I’ve sold a few pieces and I may continue with this series, as well. I enjoy painting a lot of the foreboding imagery, but I think I’ll bring a little lightness into the work and see how it feels.