‘Rocky’ on Canvas: The Art of Sylvester Stallone


In the early 1970s, as a story idea for a protagonist who never says dying crept into Sylvester Stallone’s head, he decided to first visualize this character on canvas.

However, he did not want to use a brush as he felt that this man was wrought by the trials of life. Instead, he carved an image on the canvas using a screwdriver.

“If he looked visually interesting then I think it would translate to literature and then cinema,” he said. “I know it sounds ambitious, but that was the genesis of Rocky.”

Stallone would complete in three and a half days a famous 90-page script about poor Italian-American boxer Rocky Balboa, who is lucky enough to become the heavyweight world champion.

Released in 1976, the low-budget film catapulted Stallone to stardom and produced a plethora of sequels – the most recent being “Creed 11” in 2018, starring Michael B. Jordan.

Rocky’s success was quickly followed by another multi-sequel that Stallone originally co-wrote: “First Blood,” released in 1982, tells the story of John Rambo, a long-time Vietnam War veteran. struggling to adjust to normal life due to her post-traumatic stress disorder.

His reputation as a Hollywood action star was sealed – and quickly eclipsed the actor’s other passion: painting.

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“Much better painter than actor”

Having discovered his love of painting at a young age, the young New Yorker used to sign his first experimental works “Mike Stallone”. And despite his rising film stardom, painting has remained a constant part of his creative life, with his artistic output fueling his cinematic work and vice versa. In fact, he once considered himself a better painter than an actor.

“Painting is the purest of all the arts. And it’s not like the cinema, where 500 people are responsible for the end product. Here is a man who has to take the fame, the ridicule or the criticism.” , the actor said at a press conference. on December 3, when he visited the Osthaus Museum Hagen to launch an exhibition titled “Sylvester Stallone: ​​75th Birthday Retrospective”.

He added that despite having painted for over 50 years, it remains a new world for him. “Fear and anxiety push you forward,” said the 75-year-old. “They take you to the next level. I also approached painting with respect and then ventured into other forms. Failure, however, remains the best way for me to learn.”

In the 1970s and until the end of the 1980s, Stallone created dark and expressive works in which he dealt, among other things, with the death of his manager. At this time, he worked mainly with illustrative graphic lines and bright colors.

That changed around 1990, when the avid art collector immersed himself in the world of contemporary art and studied artists such as Picasso, Gerhard Richter or Anselm Kiefer.

Inspired by the abstract works of Mark Rothko, he developed his own style and created many expressionist pieces including self-portraits.

“That’s what I love about painting, it’s the only real communication you can have,” he once said. “Painting is the fastest and purest translator of the subconscious. When something is going on inside you and you touch the canvas, it’s hard to pretend. The artist on the canvas is number one for me when ‘it’s about conveying your feelings. “

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Sly gets a retrospective

Among other works, the 1975 screwdriver sculpted piece “Finding Rocky” will be part of the exhibition which will run from December 3 to February 20, 2022.

Showcasing the actor’s works from the late 1960s to the present day, and commemorating his 75th birthday in July this year, the collection includes around 50 paintings, including self-portraits and unpublished early works.

His works have already been exhibited at the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg (2013) and at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice (2015).

“Sylvester Stallone’s expressive paintings energetically demonstrate to us what constitutes our existence. Its themes revolve around play, dreams, fantasy, harsh realities, faith and death, ”said Tayfun Belgin, director of the Osthaus Museum Hagen, who also authored a bilingual catalog explaining the works by Stallone.

Painting Edgar Allen Poe

One of the dominant themes in his work is time, with the clock being a recurring motif in his pieces.

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter during a previous retrospective in Nice in 2015, he said: “Early in my life, I realized that man is totally in a hurry with the sense of time. Everything is timed. So I started putting clocks on my pictures, usually those of actors. “

Actor James Dean and Michael Jackson are among those the star has painted, while collectors of his works include fellow action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Travolta.

Another notable figure he painted almost 50 years ago is the American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe. He has previously expressed interest in writing and directing a biopic on Poe, which he greatly admires. If the project comes to fruition, he will most likely be behind the camera as a director rather than playing the lead role.

“Sylvester Stallone: ​​75th Birthday Retrospective” takes place at the Osthaus Museum Hagen from December 4 to February 20, 2022.

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