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SANTA MONICA - Is it his art or his acting (or his good looks)? The Lord of the Rings' Viggo Mortensen doesn't know, but he doesn't question the increased interest in his paintings and photographs.
Signlanguage, his collection of 60 recent photographs and 15 paintings, is on display at Track 16 Gallery until March 30. Last weekend, an opening reception drew 1,500 curiosity seekers who lined up to get a glimpse of the man (shorn of his movie beard and long locks) and, oh yes, his work.
A few carried autograph books and cameras. Female admirers ogled from a distance. Some of the more serious visitors purchased his work, which ranges from $350 for small photographs to $5,000 for paintings and larger photographs. His paintings are colorful collages, often with words and phrases from his own poems.
"I don't object to the fact that obviously some people are here because of the movie," says Mortensen, 43, who portrays the heroic Aragorn in the box office hit. "It's not because they've seen my paintings before. But once they're here, I hope that they like it. If they don't, they don't."
It's the second time Mortensen's work has been displayed at this gallery. The previous show in 1999 didn't draw nearly as many people.
His murals were shown in A Perfect Murder, his 1998 movie with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. When it comes to art, is there anything he can't do?
"There's plenty. I'm sure a lot of people would say that I need to take painting lessons, but I still like to do it," says Mortensen, who is divorced from Exene Cervenka, singer in the punk band X, and whose son Henry, 14, also acts. "I think everybody should do whatever they feel like doing."
"He's amazing," says Rings' Elijah Wood, who along with Sean Astin and Dominic Monaghan turned out to support their castmate at the reception. "He's a complete Renaissance man. He can do it all, and very well."
Comparing making art with movies, Mortensen says, "The process and the results are mine, whereas in a movie, by virtue of the medium, the result isn't mine."
Mortensen clicked away during the 15 months spent in New Zealand in 1999-2000 simultaneously filming three Rings movies. Some of those photos are in the exhibit.
For those who can't make it to Santa Monica, the Signlanguage catalog arrives in bookstores on Feb. 15 (RAM Publications, hardcover, $40; softcover, $25). It's available at smartartpress.com.