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Novak's 'Iconic Vision' comes to Butler branch

Mandela, climate change evoked in actress’ works
Published: 10:50 PM, Sun June, 16 2019



Kim Novak recalled having wept as she felt the late South Africa President Nelson Mandela’s spirit flow through her and tried to capture and express its essence on a medium.

“He inspired me as a human being. I painted him as a butterfly, as if he was taking off,” the renowned film star, actress and artist said, referring to the catalyst that gave her the passion and desire to use pastels to create “Transformation – Nelson Mandela.”

Novak, who had starring roles in numerous films from the 1950s and 1960s, found herself playing a vastly different role, as she was the guest of honor for a two-hour Meet the Artist reception Sunday afternoon at the Butler Institute of American Art Trumbull Branch, 9350 E. Market St.

“I felt so much for what he went through,” the 86-year-old Novak said while describing the Mandela piece she painted after his death Dec. 5, 2013, at age 95. It shows the anti-apartheid leader in a meditative pose with a shock of colored wings jutting in several directions from his head that symbolize his dream for bringing together people of all colors, races and nations.

The work also is one of about 75 paintings, photographs, stained-glass and sculpture pieces that make up the retrospective exhibit, “Kim Novak: An Iconic Vision,” which will be at the Butler’s Trumbull location through Oct. 6.

Novak, who lives in Sams Valley, Ore., also painted “Melting Glaciers,” a haunting flurry of wispy, wavy and seemingly out-of-focus colors through which can be seen a dog and a polar bear with stunned and dazed looks under the face of a tear-filled woman wearing a Rosary on her finger. The painting is a visual expression of the devastating effects of climate change, Novak explained.

Another pastel-over-watercolor painting on display is “Homeless,” a poignant study in contrasts that shows an older bearded man smiling and holding his loving dog. He appears content, despite having lost his job and home.

Levity also can be found in her artwork, such as one titled “They Left Laughing,” which shows an elderly couple laughing together.

Another facet of her artwork that makes it so compelling is what most people don’t see initially, such as hidden birds and animals, observed Sue Cameron, Novak’s manager for more than 40 years.

“When you look at her art, it’s like looking at her insides. You have to study it for a long time, because there are things you don’t see the first time,” explained Cameron, of Palm Springs, Calif. “Birds to her are witnesses to life.”

A prime example is “Bluebird Tattoo,” a pastel work that depicts a woman with a tattoo on her arm next to a bluebird that’s given her the strength and courage to stand up to bullies who would chastise her for having one – even though tattoos are now widely accepted in society.

The exhibit also features a series of nature photographs, many with snow-covered landscapes, she took during the 1970s.

“It’s very, very personal. It’s more about ideas and the heart than the purely visual,” Dr. Louis A. Zona, the Butler’s executive director and chief curator, said about Novak’s artistic approach.

Zona observed that some celebrities such as Novak display extraordinary talent in and equal passion for more than one art form, such as acting and painting, and that they can become more well known for their artwork.

“Tony Bennett once told me, ‘When I’m painting, I’m thinking of singing. When I’m singing, I’m thinking of painting,’” Zona remembered.

In addition, Novak donated the Mandela piece to the Butler, Zona continued.

Also during the reception, a crew from “CBS This Morning” was on hand filming Novak for a local segment that will be used in an upcoming program.

No air date has been announced.


Artist and actress at a glance

Kim Novak, the 86-year-old film star, TV actress and artist, was the guest of honor for a two-hour reception Sunday afternoon at the Butler Institute of American Art’s Trumbull Branch in Howland, where she discussed some of her works. Some facts about her life and career:

Between the mid- and late 1950s, Novak starred in more than a dozen motion pictures, including as a model in the 1954 film “The French Line,” as Molly in “The Man with the Golden Arm” and as Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Vertigo,” which also starred Jimmy Stewart and is one of her best-known roles.

Her co-stars also have included Frank Sinatra, Fred MacMurray and William Holden.

In 1955, Novak received a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female, for her role in “Phffft,” a romantic comedy that also starred Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday.

She made appearances in several episodes of the 1980s TV drama series “Falcon Crest.”

Over time, Novak sidelined acting and devoted herself full time to visual art that included sculpting, stained-glass pieces and paintings that fused surrealism and traditional realism, many of which contain hidden elements that speak to ways she sees a variety of social issues.