The Other Side of Orson Welles

We all remember him as one of the greatest filmmakers ever, but he had another passion that’s rarely discussed.
By  · Published on March 7th, 2019

Citizen Kane. Touch of Evil. The Trial. Chimes At Midnight. I could go on. These are just a few examples of the masterworks that contributed to writer, actor, and director Orson Welles’ immortal legacy. You know all about his movies, though. What you may not be so familiar with is the legendary filmmaker’s most underappreciated talent: art.

Long before Welles became a cinematic powerhouse, he was an aspiring artist and musician. His main passion, however, was drawing and painting. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he went on to work in theater, radio, and filmmaking. Through it all, art remained a constant passion.

He was rather gifted in this department, as well. Whether he was doodling sketches, providing concept drawings for his films, or painting detailed portraits, his natural talent was evident. Regardless of the time and effort he put into each creation, they were always expressive and brimming with personality.

Yet, his non-filmmaking endeavors are rarely discussed and the majority of his art hasn’t been made available to the public — until now.

Titan Books’ new release Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate looks at this side of the icon. Written by Simon Braund, the thoroughly-researched and visually stunning tome takes us on a tour through Welles’ life and career, showcasing the art that he created along the way.

Despite his longstanding status as one of the best filmmakers who ever lived, Welles’ career was a series of highs and lows. The films he made speak for themselves, but throughout his life he spent a lot of time feeling miserable about those dream projects that never came to fruition.

Some people would call dwelling on failed projects a waste of time, but Welles’ sadness and frustration inspired his most powerfully evocative paintings. For instance, after being fired from Touch of Evil, which he believed would be his big comeback, he poured his heart and soul into a painting called Abolishment, which depicts abstract images colored with black and fiery oranges. It’s haunting. By no means is this painting the most pleasant of his creations to look at, but it’s a brilliant, honest, and illuminating reflection of his inner grievances at the time.

His career pursuits are all covered in great detail in the book, but the most fascinating takeaways pertain to his personal life — especially in regards to his relationship with his family. For example, in an exclusive interview with his daughter, Beatrice Welles, she discusses how Christmas was a huge deal in their household. So much so that her dad even created hand-painted cards for the family. Stories like this present a much more tender side of a man who’s often remembered as being a loud, drunken, brutish character.

Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate is an essential read for Welles fans. Not only does it showcase his artistic talent, but it’s also a wonderful documentation of his life and his work. Welles was a fascinating man for various reasons, and more than anything, this book highlights just how one-of-a-kind and unique he truly was.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.