Billy Zane's Fresh Artistic Endeavor


Billy Zane, best known for slipping a blue diamond onto Kate Winslet in Titanic and slipping himself into a purple onesie in The Phantom, has spent the last 15 years slowly and successfully slipping into the art world.

This weekend his paintings will be included in Fresh Canvas' latest benefit, in support of The Cancer Support Community-Benjamin Center, as Comedy Central's Jack Herrguth is honored with the 2nd Annual Gilda Award. Zane spoke with ETonline about the important event, the double-edged sword of being a hyphenate and living his best life.

ETonline: How did you come to partner with Fresh Canvas?

Billy Zane: It came through a dear friend of mine, a wonderful artist named Janet Roberts, a four-time cancer survivor. We co-created and collaborated on this idea of Fresh Canvas and did a joint show together last year -- now we're expanding to include more artists. I'm so happy to be a part of it because The Center is just stunning. I love the fact that in the cancer universe you have a lot of money going towards research, but this is about cancer support. It allows people to receive information to facilitate their healing. It's a revelation and just phenomenal.

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ETonline: Has philanthropy always been important to you?

Zane: Celebrity and charity have been bedfellows for many years. The key is to try and choose practical, sound and effective ones. There is no shortage of solicitation for endorsement, so you have to really know what you're getting behind and be passionate about it. In this case, aside from just being a spokesperson, they're benefiting a form of expression that is dear to me, painting.

ETonline: When did you start viewing painting as more than a hobby?

Zane: I've been making art for about 15 years and showing professionally for three. It's been received quite well in the art community, which is all you can ask for when you're a hyphenate -- it is a handicap one must overcome, but there is something about people's low expectations that seems to contribute to their wonderful surprise of how much they like the work [laughs]. I used to groan at the idea of a room assuming you couldn't possible do something other than what you're known for, so their extraordinary joy at welcoming and liking the work has contributed to more shows. I've got one in London in September and one in Monaco during the Grand Prix. It's nice.

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ETonline: What ignited your desire to take painting more seriously?

Zane: Access to great works, for sure. But I've always had an artistic hand. I took on paint when I started falling in love with the abstract expressionists. I approached it from a physical standpoint, but I've also been honing my compositional eye through film. My core competency has really informed my painting. The roots of editing stem from classical paintings -- classic painters intended to drive your eye from this conflict to that intrigue, ending with a caprice. That is a montage, that is editing. It became a flipbook in later generations. Cinema informed my painting by the sheer geography -- on locations, there is so much downtime. And when you're spending all this time creating art by committee, the concept of the singular voice is a pleasant antidote.

ETonline: Does creating paintings make you long to direct again?

Zane: It absolutely does. What I love about directing is finding common ground in complementary palate with wardrobe, set design, the camera department, the makeup department, et cetera. I love figuring out that synergy. To have everything work in concert is amazing, I love working with that kind of logic. Directing is a cavalcade of taste decisions -- this one or that one, but I raather enjoy it and am in the process of setting up the next endeavor.

ETonline: Could you ever see one medium completely eclipsing the other?

Zane: No, I like them in equal measure. I'm also a new father, and I love painting as far as what it means in terms of proximity to my child and my lady. Taking time out from painting to cook -- that provincial lifestyle is all one can ask for. Mixing that in with one film a year, I think you're tapped into the wisely balanced lifestyle someone like Julian Schnabel has found. Being a vendor in the age of corrupted IP is kind of tricky as a business model because piracy has devalued music and cinema. For the most part, it's not the most lucrative business, so it has to be about keeping the passion alive.

For more information on Fresh Canvas' Gilda Awards on May 18, click here. And you can follow Billy Zane on Twitter @BillyZane!