I assume Brad Pitt has a pretty enviable life, even struggling with his messy divorce from Angelina Jolie. And taking a trip to a museum in Finland to exhibit his sculptures along with the works of his friends Nick Cave and Thomas Houseago seems like another interesting extension of it. So it would be fair to the rest of us if he fell face down like other celebrities who dabble in art. But from what I can see of his online exhibition, that’s not the case at all.
Related: Brad Pitt makes his surprise debut as a sculptor at the Finnish art gallery
Houseago’s involvement is a clue that Pitt is plotting something substantial rather than self-indulgent. This eccentric and excellent British artist cuts out wild and deliberately clumsy sculptural forms that teem with monsters and myths. He has recently approached painting, however, with a brilliant visionary intensity inspired in part by Edvard Munch – hence the choice of northern Europe for this Nordic noir exhibition. And as recently reported by an art world magazine, “he counts celebrities like Brad Pitt among his closest friends.” But there is more. Houseago, who suffered abuse during a difficult childhood in 1980s Leeds, has devoted himself to painting for the past two years as a therapy, as he was recovering from a nervous breakdown. And while Pitt may not have, as far as I know, similar levels of trauma to deal with, it seems that he too is escaping into his art to improve his health and happiness.
When he and Leonardo DiCaprio were filming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with Quentin Tarantino, he invited his co-star to relax by making pottery together in his home studio. You can imagine that it helps him to forget the rows on the French vineyard that he co-owned with Jolie to only exult in the sensual creation of mysterious objects.
Therapy is very good. But what about the results? Are Pitt’s sculptures unnecessarily derivative like Ed Sheeran’s abstract paintings, or soporific like King Charles III’s watercolors? On the contrary, stinging and memorable images of pain and violence appear in the photos.
Aiming at you I saw me but it was too late this time is a frieze of broken bodies as men shoot each other in a Mexican standoff carved like a scene on an ancient sarcophagus. Gunmen are well done: their faces and bodies, some in shirt and jeans, some shirtless, are skilfully done. Yet the artist is not a prisoner of pedantic realism. He fragments and vanishes these furious fighters, expressively expressing how violence literally destroys the self. This could easily be a monument to the armed United States, where no one wins. Or maybe he was dealing with the on-screen violence of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when he created it in 2020. But the title suggests a more inner pain.
The theme of brutal fragmentation continues in a coffin-like bronze box covered with fragments of bodies. Here the violence of its neoclassical frieze went further. There are no people left standing complete, just pieces of them. The coffin is a fairly crude image. But far from being just mortal, there is something redeeming about its golden glow and funeral dignity. It reminds me of Gauguin’s symbolist sculptures. This is a healing box, a coffin you could rise from, like someone healing.
Pinch me – I must be dreaming. Brad Pitt is an extremely impressive artist. I certainly didn’t expect to say this when I got up this morning. He has avoided the embarrassment of celebrity art to reveal what by any standard are powerful and deserving works.