From Screen to Canvas: the Films that Inspired the Art

The creative process is often one of inspiration and influence, particularly across different art forms. An area in which we see this often is in exchanging visual forms between film and art. There are countless examples of films borrowing directly from paintings throughout art history but less often do we see the exchange occurring in the opposite direction. This is potentially due to it being more challenging to transfer moving images to one that is still. Maybe it is down to film scenes being made up of not just image but also sound and extended narrative. This list highlights some of the artists that have referenced film despite these challenges. Some are nuanced, others kitsch but all certainly draw something from the cinema.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills series (1977-1980)

Cindy Sherman began her Untitled Film Stills in the late 1970s. Consisting of over 70 black and white photographs, the images recall standard scenes from old Hollywood films without specifically referencing any particular film. They convey the mystery and female vulnerability that tends to imbue classic black and white films. Each photograph exists as a stand-alone with Sherman herself appearing in a different costume and makeup to become each individualised character. The images contain a sense of suspense, as though we are looking at a still from the middle of a film of which we haven’t seen the beginning nor will we see the end. The series varies in terms of success but the overall effect of the cinematic lighting, angles, and dramatisation is fantastic and the filmic inspiration here is impossible to overlook.

Sumit Mehndiratta, Bollywood on a Matchbox, (2019)

In this work, Mehndiratta is inspired not by one single movie, much like Sherman, but instead draws upon Bollywood’s stylistic advertisements. Taking existing movie posters from Indian cinema, Mehndriatta shrinks them down, prints them onto matchboxes and attaches them to a wooden frame that forms a diamond shape. The artist creates an interesting juxtaposition in the diamond shape (suggesting high class and quality) and the common, everyday object of the matchbox. Potentially he is implying that through Bollywood cinema, glamour can be brought into the ordinary (or at least the appearance of it).

Pauline Curnier Jardin, Grotto Profunda, 2011

Jardin’s immersive piece Grotta Profunda is a 30-minute video that shows black and white images of a wandering female teenage Saint Bernadette Soubirous (canonised in 1932) who has just experienced an apparition. She winds up in the mountains where she eventually falls asleep on a stone. In a state of semi-consciousness, she then finds herself in a cave where she experiences the mysteries of humanity. This unconventional take on the Catholic saint’s life is inspired by Jardin’s fascination with Joan of Arc and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 film, The Passion of Joan of Arc which formed the focus of her master’s thesis. Dreyer’s questioning of the supernatural power associated with religious faith is a particular point of interest to Jardin. She draws upon the effects of Dreyer’s unconventional camerawork and the intense stripping back of production, costume and makeup to create a depiction of the rawness of the female saint’s experience.

Trevor Paglen, Orbital Reflector, 2018

Paglen’s Orbital Reflector is a high tech sculpture installation consisting of a satellite that was launched into space in December 2018. It was designed to orbit the earth (from where it would be visible) for a number of months before being destroyed by the heat of the atmosphere. The artist was inspired in part by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris and it’s the un-Americanised vision of space. The deeply alien and untouched landscape that forms space in the film is what Paglen envisioned for his own work. The lack of flags or colonies leaves the unknown to be built of distorted memories and interpretations of emptiness, making the journey to space (in both the film and in Paglen’s imagination) a journey into the self. Paglen’s $1.5 million dollar satellite was lost in space in 2019.

Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis, 1963

This painting by pop art artist Andy Warhol is based on a publicity photograph for the movie Flaming Star, a 1960 western starring Elvis Presley and Barbara Eden, directed by Don Siegel and based on a novel by Clair Huffaker. Warhol used this image in multiple versions of this same image, some featuring only two figures. This work shows the growing dialogue between different aspects of popular culture during the decade. Drawing upon a photograph used to advertise a film based on a book and employing it in a painting, Warhol provides an example of the crossing over of forms of entertainment that characterised the art movement and how much one came to rely upon the visuals of another.

Pauline Boty, The Only Blonde in the World, 1963

In this painting, Boty reimagines Marilyn Monroe in her role of Sugar Kane in the 1959 film Some Like it Hot, directed by Billy Wilder. Depicting Monroe in character sets this painting apart from other depictions of the star which often show her in a way that highlights her vulnerability in light of her tragic death. Boty avoids the martyr figure of Monroe, instead choosing to show her in one of her most loved roles, highlighting her successful career and her talent rather than her untimely and shocking demise. Boty shows Monroe in mid-movement, isolated in a strip of reality within an abstract patterned canvas. In this, her being presence is emphasised and celebrated, standing out amongst the unremarkable surroundings.

Follow Gabriella on her Instagram @gabsyloo_