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Tony Curtis, celebrity art hobbyist

September 30, 2010 |  4:03 pm

Curtis In Hollywood, celebrities who like to spend their free time indulging in the visual arts are so commonplace that they've become a cliché. Stars from Sylvester Stallone to Phyllis Diller to the late Dennis Hopper carved out oft-dubious side careers as artists, much to the delight of their fans and much to the consternation of serious art lovers.

Tony Curtis, who passed away Thursday at 85, was among the more passionate and prolific of Tinseltown's weekend artists. "I'd like to be known as an artist who acts rather than an actor who paints," he once said. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis issued a statement Thursday saying that her father "leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages."

Some people may think it strange to place Curtis' art dabblings on the same level as his film work in "Some Like It Hot" and "The Defiant Ones." But then again, Curtis wasn't strictly a dabbler. The actor devoted decades to his love of art and continued to paint long after the plum movie roles stopped coming his way.

He clearly took his art his seriously. In a 1989 interview with The Times on the occassion of his artwork being shown at the Beverly Hilton, Curtis explained that "when I start painting, I have no idea what I'm going to do. The first color I use -- that tells me where the painting is going. It paints itself, and the painting tells me when it's finished. It's almost as if it does it for me."

It often looks silly for amateur artists to list grand masters as their influences, but that didn't stop Curtis. He told The Times that he had been most inspired by Picasso, Matisse and Balthus.

Curtis continued to show his creations at venues around the world. He also sold some his artwork online.

As Times art critic Christopher Knight recently noted, the current museum climate looks kindly on celebrity art exhibitions -- which means that Curtis' paintings and other artwork could one day show up at an exhibition near you.

Read the full Times obituary of Tony Curtis.

-- David Ng

Photo: Tony Curtis at his easel. Credit: Shaun Curry / AFP/Getty Images