VALLEY WEEKEND : ART : Painter Really Puts Herself Into Her Work : Simone Gad’s subjects include historical subjects and Hollywood images.


A head shot is a mug shot is a portrait . . . until Simone Gad gets her hands on it. The character actress-painter--an odd hyphenate, even by entertainment industry standards--has explored the Hollywood image in her artwork for almost 20 years. In her latest exhibit, “Self-Portraits and Hollywood Imagery” at Orlando Gallery in Sherman Oaks, Gad incorporates her own acting head shots into her assemblages, juxtaposing herself with stars from Keanu Reeves to Rin Tin Tin.

Gad attaches framed photographs, ceramic animal figurines and occasionally silk flowers to painted canvases, creating a hanging altar of kitsch offerings. The flat black-and-white photos of Gad, from both her teen-age acting years and more recent character-acting ventures, are then painted to mold Gad into the personality with whom she shares the canvas.

In a piece like “Kahlo/Gad,” Gad connects her eyebrows with black paint to resemble the ubiquitous face of painter Frida Kahlo. The effect is twofold. There is idol worship, underscored by a glued-on plastic crucifix and Bible bank. Then there is the actress’ relationship: Gad as Kahlo--coming soon to a theater near you.

The “Hollywood Image,” clearly, is broadly defined in Gad’s art, encompassing Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank, in addition to the more expected Jack Benny, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean.


Not all of these assemblages incorporate portraits of Gad and a celebrity. Gad has painted, for example, herself as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe: four images of distilled glamour.

Some of Gad’s painted-on self-portraits may look familiar, especially the ones where she’s wearing cat-eye glasses and ‘50s-style outfits. Besides being fantastically close to her real-life persona, that’s also the look of her character in the 1994 film “Speed.” Gad played one of the people trapped on a bus that is rigged to explode. “I had a lot of crying scenes and was one of the last people off the bus,” Gad said during an interview in her Los Feliz apartment. She memorialized the two months of continuous acting work with “Gad/Reeves,” created with a snapshot of her with star Keanu Reeves.

But her paintings aren’t all glamour and glitz. “Gad/Frank” draws a connection between the artist and the young diarist Anne Frank. Gad’s parents, Polish Jews, had emigrated to Belgium before World War II. Despite their efforts to evade the Nazis, her father wound up in the same concentration camp as Anne Frank’s father. “My parents didn’t talk about what happened to them. I just got bits and pieces,” Gad explained. But after visiting the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, she began to see a connection with Frank.


In the 1950s, Gad’s family immigrated to the United States. She now considers the years she spent watching “I Love Lucy” and “The Jack Benny Show” in their East Los Angeles home to have been valuable research. But then, her artistic research tends toward the non-traditional. Shopping--sifting through thrift stores, swap meets and memorabilia shops--is also her research.

After acting through her teen-age years, Gad abandoned it in her early 20s. At 39, she started looking for character roles and found work in commercials, TV and film.

Certainly it’s odd to have acting be the day job that supports her painting. But the two careers work well together, Gad said. “In between auditions, I have a lot of time to make art.”


* WHAT: “Self-Portraits and Hollywood Imagery.”

* WHERE: Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

* WHEN: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; reception Friday 8-10 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* CALL: (818) 789-6012.