Celluloid and Canvas - Kim Novak

February 20, 2010

She might be best known today for her roles in films like Vertigo, Bell Book and Candle and Picnic, but Kim Novak is also an artist -- and a great one at that! She even won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago and studied there for three years!

Luckily, I recently stumbled upon an International Artist magazine back-issue that highlighted Kim Novak's artwork -- about the same time that I also found a book about actors who paint which also featured her art. Both included interviews with Kim in which she spoke freely about her inspirations, insecurities and subject matter.

I've transcribed some excerpts of her interviews, and scanned some examples of her outstanding paintings. I hope this will provide some insight into the life and art of that sultry silver-screen enigma Kim Novak.
"When I paint it is me, not me as the Hollywood actress Kim Novak who decides the medium and the subject matter to paint. And yet I can never completely get away from the influence of Kim Novak. I find her strong feelings and responses showing up all the time. Her feelings are so powerful that they cannot be denied. They take over, sometimes almost beyond my control and I just let them go. Almost like using a weegee board where my paint brush can be driven madly in all directions. As if someone else was moving my hand for me"

"In Hollywood you're a collage but with art it's your own creation."

"I want the viewer to participate in the picture. I hope that my pictures call for participation."

"Art helped me through the tough days of Hollywood. I was able to get out my feelings and make it through another day. It was a way of expressing myself that they couldn't take away from me."

"The need to paint comes upon when I feel frustrated. In acting it all gets so diluted; in painting there is no compromise."

"I used to wait for my father to get off work at the railroad station I would draw the faces that I'd see in the waiting area. Then in Hollywood, painting became my therapy to release frustrations, aid with depression and even help define the character I was portraying."

"I have always been most proud of the two scholarships I won while in grade school. They were from the Chicago Art Institute and meant more to me than the Golden Globe or Europe's Golden Bear for Lifetime Achivement. It was the highlight of my life and the only thing I excelled in as a child. It really helped with my poor self esteem."

"I feel connected with the truth. My truth. I especially painted during difficult times during filming. But I never really shared what I did in my private time with my fellow actors. My art was there as a release from stress to keep my sanity."

"About confidence and insecurities: Do you think that it is perhaps because, as artists, we are more analytical and therefore more critical of ourselves? Yes, I do think we have higher expectations of ourselves and our art. I know that I am my worst critic, by far!"

"When I'm painting, I like to forget about the rules and just express my feelings... allow my head to get filled with music, like good jazz. And let my brushes dance, improvise. That is the ultimate expression for me! Feeling the dance. Feeling Free!"

"I was always a shy person who kept to myself. All my feelings were expressed in my art; and those I shared with very few. My art was there to help me survive in a world where I felt out of place."

"I feel that I now have found a good formula of balance in my life. I paint so there's time to spend with my four-legged friends; like riding my horse, exploring the countryside. It gives me the perspective I need. I come back with fresh eyes on life and for the canvas on which I'm working."

"There are paralells in acting and painting: My first impression, and reaction is what I trust more than anything else to guide me. In movies, it was always the story line, the script. In art, it is the subject matter that starts my fire. Then I need to hold on to that first reaction and develop a back story to go with it. I don't believe that a scene or an image can stand by itself without a sense of a beginning and a place for it to go. Keeping that story alive and fresh is essential. A scene in a movie, or a painting, both need character development to be interesting. They need a sense of purpose. I have found that it is essential to stay focused on telling the story; the truth as I know it. Total commitment no matter what. When it goes right, I'm not aware of the camera or lights; at least not on a conscious level. When it is working well, it flows freely. If I am distracted, nothing seems to go well; it all becomes false. The story, me and my work."

Self portrait

1956 portrait of Walter Keane

Kim wrote of this painting, "In the late 50's, the San Francisco artist Walter Keane did a painting of me and then I did an oil painting of him. I portrayed Walter as I saw him on the stage of life, as a sad clown. Little did I know at the time how true that would turn out to be; later he was exposed as a fraud and it was his wife who had been painting for him all those years."

The Girl and the Hummingbird

Girl With a Dream

Kim's father


Kim Novak in her studio with Harley Brown

Harmony With Self and Nature


The Bond

Fallen Monarch

This is a portrait that Kim Novak did of her father in 1959. She wrote of the painting, "This is a picture of my father. The scene behind him is from the Petrified Forest. I see it as a man whose feelings are trapped, petrified He's unable to let out all of his feelings, his passion, so it dies."

This is a photo of Kim Novak standing in front of a mural she painted in her bedroom. According to the magazine article, Kim's entire bedroom is covered in murals. It must be so amazing to live within your own works of art!

Meltdown on Wall Street


Sarah Mann said...

WOW! "Harmony With Self and Nature" is my favorite, so COOL.
I love how all her her portraits look a little spooky too. There's something behind the eyes in all of them!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I knew Kim had received some renown as an artist, but I never got a chance to see any of her art. She is absolutely great. I wonder if prints of her artwork are sold anywhere? Anyway, it makes me admire her even more. Intelligent, beautiful, and talented as both an artist and an actress. I agree with my friend Sefton. Kim never needed spells to make men fall in love with her...She just needed to be Kim!

Artman2112 said...

wow what a great post! i know next to nothing about Kim Novak at all so what a great peek at the woman behind the star/actress persona. her art is not the kind of thing i would generally hang in my house but some of it is beautiful and all of it is interesting. her use of color is unique. that first self-portrait is my fave of them all. actually, i WOULD hang that in my house!

Millie said...

Great post!

I LOVE the self-portrait!

pjowens75 said...

Wow. Great post, Kate. Some great art by a lovely and talented lady. I love the games she plays with hair, from the paint drippings becoming the hair of the Self Portrait, to the horse's spaghetti-like mane drawing us to the eye down below in Entwined. Very nice.

Andi B. Goode said...

Wow, they're really interesting paintings. I adore her colour palette.
-Andi x

VKMfanHuey said...

Cool post, KG!

Never knew that about her... some great stuff! Thanks...always neat to learn about folks!


Ginger Ingenue said...

Oh, WOW at the self-portrait!!


A lot of these won't load, for some reason, or will only load partially, but from what I CAN see, they look wonderful.

Great post, Kate!

I didn't even know Kim Novak was a painter, and I'm a fan of Novak's.

Gonna check out some more in this series...I love the idea of multi-talented artists; like actors who paint, and writers who sing, etc.

Thanks for sharing all this! :)

Raquel Stecher said...


Sally said...

She was incredible!! Great post!

alex centrella said...


Anonymous said...

The beautiful Lady is a genius. I wonder if she ever painted Jimmy.

Halfmad said...

Any idea where these are sold?

kate gabrielle said...

Her original paintings? I really have no idea.. sorry.

Anonymous said...

I Admire Kim Novak's paintings are great from the famous portraits of
the wonderful stars.

You are doing a great job Kim as the painter and keep up the good work.

Well done to Kim Novak as the famous oil painter icon and I admire your great work.

Terry Christie
from Sunderland
Tyne & Wear