Different, colorful, eccentric—all descriptors one might use to politely describe artists who buck traditions, defy conventionality, and sometimes even violently reject the status quo. And why is that? Because, as humans, we’re naturally both perplexed and awed by those who blatantly ignore societal norms.
We’re drawn to the bold souls who not only march to the beat of their own drum, but douse said drum with gasoline, light a match, record video of the ensuing inferno, and use it as the backdrop for a performance art piece they’re debuting downtown.
Hyperbolic? A little. The point is, sometimes the rebel beings behind the art are just as fascinating as the art itself. These characters are no exception:
- Salvador Dalí’s mustache (above) was so unique and easily-identifiable that it’s been posthumously named the most influential piece of facial hair in history.
- In other wacky news, some surmise that absinthe and yellow paint—which van Gogh allegedly ate directly from the tube—led to his eventual demise.
- Then there’s Frida Kahlo. Even gangrene in her right foot didn’t stop her from attending her first solo exhibition. She simply arrived via ambulance.
- Who needs paint brushes? Jackson Pollock was not opposed to using cigarette butts to paint when in a manic “Jack the Dripper” frenzy.
- Yves Kline also experimented beyond the brush, opting to use human bodies (presumably alive) as the vehicle by which he applied paint to canvas.
- When Andy Warhol wasn’t painting, he was filling entire warehouses with random objects, including a chunk of concrete and a mummified Egyptian foot.
- Mark Rothko also had a hard time letting things go. He interviewed patrons prior to selling his work. If they didn’t pass his test, he refused the sale.
- Dutchman Piet Mondrian knew how to look on the bright side. He credited two months of the Spanish flu with improving the overall quality of his work.
- People steered clear of Picasso. He was known to carry a pistol loaded with blanks. He’d fire when he found someone boring or they dared to insult Cézanne.
- Quirky Suzanne Valadon kept a goat in her studio, wore corsages made of carrots, and frequently fed caviar to her cats.
- Know what? Gustav Klimt also liked cats. Not only was his studio overrun with them, but he believed their urine helped preserve his ornate works of art.
- Leonardo da Vinci preferred birds. As a fervent animal rights activist and vegetarian, he regularly purchased caged chickens only to set them free.
- Georgia O’Keeffe also liked to be free, preferring to paint in the passenger seat of her Ford truck in the desert to working in a conventional studio.
- Before Henri Matisse was a distinguished painter, he worked as a bored law clerk who took to shooting spitballs at passersby on the street.
- Tamara De Lempicka was a notorious hedonist. Even when she was working, she’s said to have taken frequent breaks for massages, baths, and champagne.
Yes, when they’re not curling their mustaches or freeing chickens, sometimes artists behave badly. Chalk it up to artistic license—that unspoken agreement that allows creative types to break well-worn rules for the sake of great art.
Plus, let’s be real, it’s the unorthodox stuff that we remember and regale our friends with at brunch. You’re welcome.