From Nature: An Interview with Val Kilmer, by D. Dominick Lombardi

D. Dominick Lombardi
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Val Kilmer, Photo by Hank O’Neal (all images courtesy of Woodward Gallery, NYC)

Val Kilmer, well-known actor, director and producer is also an accomplished poet and visual artist. In all instances, the diversely and abundantly talented Kilmer must manage his creative energies in many different ways, but for him it is in the visual arts, like poetry, where there is more of a need or want for experimentation, chance and enlightenment, as poetry and the visual arts are the ultimate internal process.

Kilmer brings everything to the table, even the very core of our being, as thoughts of God and the origins of the universe vie for his and our attention in his art. I recently had the pleasure of asking Kilmer a few questions to help clarify his process and intent in the following Q & A.

DDL: In looking at your more abstract, more fluid imagery, as in VK1126 or VK1130, there is this distinct sense of the universe, perhaps what may be considered a Nebula in one moment, followed by the suggestion of an otherwise invisible microscopic world. This brings to mind a quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson: “There’s as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy.” Are you making that distinction in your art, that everything is “a little universe.”

Right: Untitled, 2017, enamel on metal with poured acrylic resin surface, 20 ½ x 12 x 1 ¾”. Signed on Verso VK1130 

VK: That’s very much my intention. Thank you for noticing! It’s not something I have found a way to plan, but there are certain guidelines one can search for. Every year or so, you might be lucky to stumble into something for a period of time. I found a few rules that help produce this effect and when I manage to capture both a sense of the infinite and the infinitesimal . . . That is most gratifying. It’s a fool’s errand to try and describe getting to it though! Whew…

DDL: With VK1183 you have what looks to be a representation of simultaneous formation and destruction, which to me speaks of life, thought, belief or truth as an ever-changing journey. Sometimes we have to destroy to create, we must leave a safe place to enter something new and vibrant. Is VK1183 pure emotion, an experiment in chance utilizing combative media, is it speaking of a sort of yin yang of being, or is it meant to be something totally different?

Left: Untitled, 2017, enamel on metal with poured acrylic resin surface, 20 ½ x 12 x 1 ¾”
Signed on Verso VK1183

VK: Not totally different. But I see life as more of a contract than a life into death, death into life cycle. I see life as God and God as ever-present. So it’s an attempt to see and capture a visual of the moment where new life occurs, a new image of Creation, but Creation based on something perhaps familiar.

DDL: VK0314 has the word GOD as its subject, but it is more of a question than it is a statement. We live in very difficult times, not so much as one would have experienced during a World War, depression or plague but it is at times as trying with so much global strife and so many troubling events here at home. With VK0314, with its deteriorating acid surface that surrounds the word God, believe you are asking “where is God at times of unbearable loss and deep sadness” – am I on the right track?

Right: Untitled, 2017, enamel on metal with poured acrylic resin surface, 12 x 20 ½ x 1 ¾” Signed on Verso VK0314

VK: Well, I believe it’s possible to see the world today as every bit in the middle of the worst world war. It seems people are imprisoned into a hypnotic state by rhetoric, or ideology, that has us believing that actual poisons are some sort of joy or benefit. I feel that this gets in the way of our ability to be free and enjoy our glorious country’s natural beauty and cultural diversity. So yes, you’re on the right track.

DDL: VK1995 seems to be the most hopeful work in the series. With its proud stand of trees defying a overbearing atmosphere and molten areas of earth, you bring us a sense that there is something greater than ourselves, that there is always spring and rebirth. I also noticed there is a red spot in the bottom band of color that reminds me of Jupiter’s storm, that distinctive red spot we are all familiar with. Is there a connection.

Left: Untitled, 2017, enamel on metal with poured acrylic resin surface, 60 x 46 x 2” Signed on Verso VK1195

VK: Absolutely. I found myself with exactly this impulse, not conscious of a Jupiter Storm, but searching for something clearly and distinctly human in the midst of turbulence.

DDL: Coming back down to earth a bit you have VK0470, which is part of a series of works that reference your role as Doc Holliday in the film Tombstone. This piece and series is much more whimsical, even Popish – a significant departure from the other more cerebral works you are about to exhibit in New York. Sometimes artists take two or more distinct tracks to stay grounded and connected to a larger audience while maintaining one’s sanity and identity. Is it difficult to be so many things at once, to wear (excuse the pun) so many hats?

Untitled, 2017, enamel on metal with poured acrylic resin surface, 12 x 20 ½ x 1 ¾” Signed on Verso VK0470

VK: The iconic image of Doc Holliday, which I have meditated on for many years, gives me the opportunity to examine what the image of this role from so many years ago invokes. Doc is part of America’s Identity. Doc’s loyalty to his lawman friend is the reference point in a classic bit of Wild West history. It isn’t dramatic without the knowledge that Doc is a dying, sophisticated, well-educated criminal, card-shark and murderer, as far away from Wyatt Earp as possible. Yet they loved each other as deeply as is perhaps possible. They both shared times, volunteered their lives for each other during their short, intense, powerful lives lived out like glorious fireworks in the desert. American fireworks. So the truth of absolute loyalty, no matter what the consequences, someone who absolutely has your back 100% (hard to imagine for most of us), as a modern statement resonates deeply for me.

It represents a sense of responsibility – from being able to trust another soul with your life with an understanding that allows the friend to represent you. . . What was the question?

By D. Dominick Lombardi, Contributing Editor

From Nature, an exhibition of the artistic works of Val Kilmer, will be held at the Art Gallery, Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pleasantville, New York. Audrey Leeds and John Woodward of the Woodward Gallery, New York City, have curated the exhibition, which runs from May 12 – June 10, 2018.


  1. Diane Lombardi

    wow. deep. must revisit and read again.


  2. Monette V RamerAmaya

    Very cool interview.Especially the comments on loyalty. Bless you very much.

  3. Kathleen Elliot

    Cool indeed. Glad to see Val doing well.

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