Dennis Hopper was famous for a wide variety of reasons throughout his career. While his contributions to cinema as an actor and filmmaker have been celebrated by critics as well as audiences all around the world, Hopper was also known as “Hollywood’s Original Hell-Raiser” for participating in truly crazy activities like snorting a dead woman’s ashes or shooting up a tree on LSD.
In addition to his achievements as an important New Hollywood filmmaker and actor, Hopper was active in other artistic domains as well. For one, Hopper photographed many cultural icons ranging from Paul Newman and Jane Fonda to Timothy Leary as well as the Grateful Dead. German pioneer Wim Wenders once famously claimed that Hopper would have been one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century if he wasn’t active elsewhere.
Ever since he was a child, Hopper felt drawn towards artistic pursuits and he even took painting lessons at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. During the beginning of his career, he practised painting as well as poetry while also working towards building his own art collection that would be regarded as a formidable lineup in later years.
In an interview, Hopper revealed that he had started his collection back in the ’50s when most people his age were preoccupied with other hobbies. When Andy Warhol had his first show in Los Angeles, Hopper was there to check it out and he even managed to buy Warhol’s first soup-can painting for a shocking price (looking back at it now) of just $75.
“My idea of collecting is not going and buying bankable names but buying people that I believe are really contributing something to my artistic life,” Hopper claimed. He decided to become an art collector when he first read Richard Boleslawski’s Acting: The First Six Lessons where he came across the guideline: “To be an actor, you must know all about art.”
In order to enhance his own acting abilities, Hopper studied literature, sculpture, music and painting while slowly building his collection. Over the years, Hopper’s collection became famous for its lineup of Pop Art masterpieces in addition to the works of other famous artists such as Julian Schnabel and Robin Rhode.
When asked about his approach to artistic value, Hopper insisted that he never really cared about what the artist set out to do. Instead, he usually focused on the historical significance of the piece and his own thoughts and interpretations. “I don’t care what the artist’s intention is,” Hopper declared. “I either get it or I don’t.”
According to Hopper, the primary objective of an art collector is to preserve the pieces so that future generations can enjoy them too. He said: “At best, what you can do with collecting is you make sure that you take care of the pieces because you’re really just the custodian of them and hopefully, they will live on beyond your lifetime.”
Despite his own statements, Hopper himself shot an Andy Warhol painting twice because it really scared him. His friend Alex Hitz recalled: “One night, in the middle of a binge, Hopper, out of the corner of his eyes, saw the Mao, and he was so spooked by it that he got up and shot at it, twice, putting two bullet holes in it.” In 2010, the piece was sold for $302,500 (ten times the original price) along with the prominent holes.
Watch Dennis Hopper’s tour of his personal art collection below.