Tony Curtis: Iconic Actor, Abstract Painter

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Tony Curtis, the movie star best known for his roles in The Defiant Ones (1958), Some Like It Hot (1959), Spartacus (1960), and The Great Race (1965), died Wednesday of cardiac arrest at the age of 85 in his Las Vegas home. During the peak of his career, Curtis was widely recognized as both an talented actor and visual darling of the silver screen. The New York Times' Dave Kehr writes that "with his dark, curly hair, worn in a sculptural style later imitated by Elvis Presley, and plucked eyebrows framing pale blue eyes and wide, full lips, Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early 1950s."

But few know that Curtis led a second career as an artist beginning in the early 1960s. He often cited Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Balthus as his major influences.""When I paint, I don't paint shapes, I paint colors. The most difficult thing to do is verbalize a painting. 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," Curtis told the Los Angeles Times in 1989 at an exhibition of his work in Beverly Hills. "I wear my Picasso hat and Matisse shorts and my Arnold Schwarzenegger tank top and I paint!"

Curtis' paintings are featured in galleries around the world, including London, Paris, and New York. One of the highlights of his artistic career came in 2007 when his painting, The Red Table, went on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. You can find a gallery of his artwork here.

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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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