Around 9 p.m. Saturday night in Los Angeles, a small but eager group stood in a building entrance lit only by Christmas lights and the flashlight of a lone security guard. A large, service-like elevator hit the ground floor, and soon, they slowly ascended to what’s called The Syrup Loft for an event seemingly ridiculous in theory, but executed with unbridled commitment: The Nicolas Cage Art Party Los Angeles.
It all started earlier this year. While working the night shift at Bed, Bath & Beyond, producer/curator Ezra Croft had an epiphany: He should hold a Nicolas Cage-themed art show.
“I was like, we’re going to take something that the Internet thinks is a little silly, but really has a good fan base, and we’re going to make real art out of it,” Croft said.
He put out feelers on Craigslist, hoping to gather submissions for the art show. The internet promptly imploded.
“The art started pouring in, and I thought oh my God, we hit gold here,” Croft explained. “It’s been a roller coaster ever since.” The first Nicolas Cage-themed art event took place in San Francisco’s Mission District on April 12, 2014. The works featured various mediums and styles, messages and tones, but all of which had Cage as their subject. Soon, he began planning a second show in Los Angeles.
What’s so fascinating about Cage? What warrants an entire art show dedicated to this particular actor? In Croft’s words, “He becomes the character; he tells the story. It might not be a classically polished, Hollywood movie, but it’s an interesting thing. He’s not afraid to make the less-than-popular decision. It’s cool to see that. It doesn’t always make for an amazing movie but he’s doing it. He’s a chameleon.”
Inside the eclectic loft, the works were divisive: Most were taking Cage seriously, while some brought popular Internet memes to the canvas. (Note: If you have not checked out Nicolas Cage on Google images lately, do yourself a favor.) The divisiveness with the art makes sense because with Cage, there is always the question of whether he is a good actor, a bad actor, a good actor who is self-aware and in on the joke, or all of the above.
One artist—who goes by Tormented Sugar, and whose “#IHeartSugar” was featured in the show—believes there’s a parallel between the variation within Cage himself and the art he inspires. “As an artist, Nicolas Cage is appealing for the fact that he can play as many variations of characters as there are possibilities to mix colors on a palette, which to me is almost infinite,” Sugar wrote in an email. “Nic Cage is to pop culture what an artist is to canvas.”
One artist to treat Cage more seriously is Steven Holliday, whose illustrator-made portrait, “The Cage,” depicts the actor in a muted palette, looking off canvas, seemingly deep in thought. Between Cage’s over-the-top acting style, which doesn’t always work, and a handful of not-so-great films he’s acted in, Cage has become humorous to some. But Holliday wanted to step away from that, portraying the other half of Cage: a respected actor.
“Every actor, every artist in general, has a bad day, some more than others, but we have to also remember that Nicolas Cage is an Academy Award-winning actor,” Holliday said. “It’s something that people don’t really remember. That’s one of the things that I wanted to bring to the serious portrait because I do view him as more of a serious actor who can also make fun of himself.”
[Note: Cage won an Academy Award in 1996 for Best Actor in Leaving Las Vegas.]
A goal for Croft was to play with Cage’s iconography without making fun of him. As a result, most of the artists featured in the show treated Cage with revery, not irony. That being said, there was quite a bit of humor in the show, indicated by a number of lighthearted pieces. Consider Cage as Sailor Moon, Elvis, and even as a great white shark (twice). Plus, in “It’s a Trap” by Sharon Welchel, Cage was depicted as Star Wars’ Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Perhaps most interestingly, though, quite a few pieces depicted Cage as a religious entity of sorts. “The Lamentation of Saint Wickerman” by Anne Walker Farrell presented Cage as both Madonna and child, being attacked by bees, in the vein of Cage’s 2006 film, The Wicker Man. “Cameron Poe’s Last Supper” by Rebecca Gonsalves acted as a play on Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” with Cage’s face inserting itself into all of those present at the biblical event, even Christ himself.
Then there’s Rachel McPherson’s “Saint Nicholas of Cage” (see main image), which looks like your average portrait of a saint. The piece could almost pass in a church, if not for Cage’s signature look, but McPherson maintains that the piece should not be taken too seriously.
“One can’t read too much into my painting,” McPherson wrote in an email. “Nicolas Cage is indeed an icon and an interesting person, but ‘Saint Nicolas of Cage’ is a play on words and I felt that it gave me the imagery to create a striking painting.”
By no means do Croft or the artists involved hold Cage to a literally (keyword: literally) saint-like, or even God-like, esteem, but the imagery poses an interesting idea. One should take the domain name of the event’s website—www.nicolascageisgod.com—into account. Whether artists were taking Cage seriously, portraying him as a talented actor, or respectfully poking fun at some of his notoriously bad films, they were still elevating Cage, furthering his iconography and legend. (Yes, legend.)
The Nicolas Cage Art Party Los Angeles was a singular event, but it speaks to a greater fascination with Cage. For Croft, the fascination is in the development of Cage, as an actor and as a personality. “He’s had these legendary highs and lows,” Croft explained. “The evolution of Nicolas Cage is just really interesting because there’s not many other actors out there who can do that.”
Croft will next be hosting The Murray Affair: A Bill Murray Art Show on August 8 at SF Public Works.