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The Art of staying true to yourself by Steffi Kammerer | 31st May, 2024 | Personalities

For years, this Hollywood superstar pushed boundaries and transformed the industry. But after surviving a near-death experience and other life-changing challenges, Sharon Stone began to reinvent herself. She now has a new calling as a sought-after painter.

For most people, swit-ching tracks, changing things about their lives, perhaps even trying something completely new is more difficult than it sounds. They cling to what they know, no matter how tired of it they are or how stuck they feel. In German-speaking countries, even children hear: “Shoemaker, stick to your last.” For Hollywood icon Sharon Stone this was no longer an option as she had been offered no interesting roles for many years. Stone has often said how hard this was on her. Ingenuity and courage were required, and she has plenty of both.

At her home in Beverly Hills, Stone is surrounded by art; she has been collecting the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat for a long time. During the pandemic, she took up painting herself, or rather, she took it up again. Art was a big part of her life as a child, her aunt was a painter and gave her lessons. Half a lifetime later, when the lockdown had Los Angeles firmly in its grip, a friend gave her a paint-by-numbers kit, which broke the spell, and she soon started buying canvases and paints and began painting feverishly. When she posted pieces on Instagram, a well-known art critic spotted them and soon she had her first show. The magazine Artnet wrote: “A big reason why she’s being taken seriously as an artist is because she takes her art seriously.” Sharon Stone says: “It quickly became an obsession.” We’re chatting via Zoom, and in Los Angeles, it’s early in the morning.

What fascinates you most about painting?
“Well, the thing that’s so nice and different from film is that I don’t have to wait for an entire production budget and location. I don’t have to wait for all of the departments to get together for me to work. I can just go to my studio, turn on the lights and start. I love the long hours of actual physical and artistic labor.”

Experimenting with your talent and publicly presenting your first efforts always requires a lot of courage, but for a well-known star like Sharon Stone, this is even more daunting, naturally. But rather than ­timidly displaying small pieces, she went all out, even at her very first exhibition in March 2023 in L.A. and filled the room with large, powerful paintings.

The art world is just as competitive as the filmworld, were you not afraid to venture into it?
“I’ve spent a lifetime of people telling me that I’m too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too blond, too brown, too something. Eventually I have to say it falls on deaf ears because I’m never going to be everything to everyone. And I almost expect people to tell me what’s wrong with me as something that they do instead of trying to figure out what’s right with them.”

A few months ago, at the start of the Berlinale, Stone opened an exhibition in Berlin, her first in Europe. She didn’t have herself driven from the airport to her hotel, but instead went straight to Auguststrasse to see her paintings at Galerie Deschler. The gallery had previously emailed her the floor plan so that she could determine herself exactly where each of the twelve works would hang. In fact, Stone designed the show, which she called “Totems,” down to the last ­detail. All the paintings were completed in 2023 and there’s a snake somewhere in each one of them. Shedding, new beginnings, that is her theme. One of her large pieces is dedicated to her nephew, who died when he was only 11 months old. Stone’s art is about beauty but always also about fundamental experiences such as war, love, loss and hope.

In 2001 she survived a stroke caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. Doctors gave her a one-percent chance of survival. For years she fought her way back to life and had to learn to speak and walk again. When she finally got better, she realized that no one in Hollywood had been waiting for her to return. “I had to go back to the back of the line,” as she once put it.

The superstar of the ’90s found herself ­facing a void. She still takes medication to prevent another stroke. Stone hid such details for many years out of fear that they would ­adversely affect a Hollywood comeback. “A disability doesn’t really work in my industry,” she says. “Painting has helped me not feel that anxiety, the anxiety of perhaps not being accepted.”At first she placed the easel in her bedroom, but soon realized that she would be needing a lot more space, so she turned a separate room into her studio. Now, finally, she had something to focus her energy on again, no longer did she have to wait for roles that never came, no longer wonder how on earth she’d been so sidelined. She, Sharon Stone, who had once been courted from all sides. But now: four solo exhibitions in the last 12 months – in Los Angeles, Greenwich, Connecticut, San Francisco and, of course, Berlin.

Did anyone help you plan your foray into the artworld?
“No. I manifest things, then I meditate. There’s only one way to do it: work, preparation, work, work, work. Without that you can’t do anything.” It doesn’t matter who you are. She laughs her deep laugh: “Well, you don’t get to be Sharon Stone either without years of work. There isn’t any shortcut. I was talking to Oprah the other day and saying how much it annoyed me that people were trying to take her down or be ­aggressive towards her. She asked me why I thought people were doing it and I said because people want to be you but they don’t want to put the work in. You get to a pinnacle of success and then people start trying to tear you down. You don’t become someone because you’re just doing nothing, it takes decades and decades of work. And the painting didn’t come because I was sitting around, it came because I spent every day that I wasn’t on a set in a foreign country in a museum. Studying, looking, viewing, drawing. It’s not a mystery.

”When did you realize that your painting could turn into something bigger?
“I think when people started fighting over the purchase of a couple of my larger pieces during my second exhibition, real collectors on museum boards.”

Painting is something spiritual for her, she says: She loses herself in her paintings, turns up the music and completely ­forgets about time. “Then it’s three o’clock in the morning very quickly,” she says. A lot of things happen in her paintings, which reflect a life that would have broken someone with less strength. Sharon Stone grew up in Pennsylvania, the second of four children. In March 2021 she published a highly acclaimed and very intimate autobiography, “The Beauty of Living Twice.” In it she describes the poverty and violence that accompanied her childhood and youth. Young Sharon grew up surrounded by flat, farming country. Some of her classmates drove a tractor to school. She lost herself to dreams of art at a very early age. At 15, she applied to the nearest college to take courses in art and creative writing. She was a gifted student and won a scholarship, but eventually dropped out to model in New York.

Her background shaped her, was part of the reason Stone never gave up. Before her famous role in “Basic Instinct” turned her into an international sensation overnight, she had already appeared in 17 films, and kept hoping for a breakthrough. Today she is a doting mother to three sons who live with her in Los Angeles. Stone openly shares details of her daily life on Instagram, there’s always something going on and she’s obviously got good friends. But 2024 will be the year of love, she has decided. Her dating life has been pretty dormant recently, and the name Sharon Stone doesn’t necessarily help. A few years ago, as she posted on Twitter, the dating platform Bumble blocked her when she set up an account because they thought it was a fake.

Stone has given back a lot. After her former acting teacher died of AIDS, she got involved in AIDS relief at a time when being associated with the illness was still stigmatized. She raised millions and millions of dollars over 25 years, for which she was recognized by the Harvard University Foundation in 2005. Stone has accompanied humanitarian organizations to the Middle East, Africa and the Himalayas, worked for the homeless and for abused women and children. Last year, the United Nations granted her a Global Citizen of the Year Award.

Stone was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Casino” and won a Golden Globe. She would still love to take on new, complex roles, but she is no longer defined by her acting career alone. “Basic Instinct” was more than 30 years ago, a groundbreaking film that brought Stone lots of fame, but also overshadowed her life, all because of that revealing fraction of a second in which she uncrosses her legs. Stone as a seductive killer, a living male fantasy.

Perhaps Stone’s dilemma was that people felt overwhelmed by her: too beautiful, to smart, too witty and sharp-tongued, too uncontrollable. In 1995 she told the Los Angeles Times: “I think for a long time people just did not know what to do with me. I looked like a Barbie doll and then I had this voice like I spend my life in a bar, and I said things that were alarming.”

Two things Stone kept saying, for instance, was that she was paid $500,000 for “Basic Instinct” whereas Michael Douglas received $14 million. If the gender gap is closing slowly, then Sharon Stone had a lot to do with it. She was an early advocate for #MeToo, has been vocal about Hollywood’s culture of toxic masculinity and described situations in which it was made quite clear that having sex with a colleague or director would benefit her career. She has yet to hear an apology.

Do you sometimes wonder what your ­career might have been like if you’d been a man?
“As Olivia Coleman says, if her name wasOliver Coleman, it would be very different for her. Talking about these things is the freedom that women are finally giving themselves. And even in the face of all this oppression, we are just tired of being shoved into a small corner.

”What have you learned over the last few years that you didn’t know before?“
After I had my stroke, I had to learn that the world doesn’t really take care of you. I think you only truly understand this once you’ve learned the really, really hard lessons. You have to draw hard lines. I learned to say an extremely hard ‘no’ because my life depended on it. Of course people thought I wasn’t being nice and spoke badly about me. I’m a tough person, you know.”

You are also admired for this.
“People might admire you, but it doesn’t mean they want to hang out with you or hire you.”

Happiness is a choice, Stone says. “It’s a dis-cipline, a daily decision.”

Do you feel liberated these days? “Yes, because I have nothing to hide anymore.”

IssueGG Magazine 03/24
PhotographyEric Michael Roy