Keanu, the Antihero
by Daniel Borras
(Translated from Spanish by Anakin McFly and LucaM)
Keanu Reeves takes the subway, and has gone from playing Romeo and Juliet's Mercutio in his youth to writing poetry today. Now, with artist Alexandra Grant, he unveils his new artistic work: two books of art with images by Grant and text by Reeves. Vogue Spain travels to Los Angeles to find an icon... but one of flesh and blood.
"Our project is like a private performance of Keanu's that I captured on camera."
Keanu: When did we first meet, Alexandra? Was it in 2011, in 2010?
Alexandra: Yes, that's when it was.
Keanu: Yes, we met on a friend's birthday.
Alexandra: We cooked some awesome steaks
Keanu: The steaks were really good, and we really became friends as we talked.
Alexandra: (Laughs) So that party was our first celebration.
Keanu: Our first 'anniversary'.
From that moment, artist Alexandra Grant and actor Keanu Reeves became a kind of creative team. She created a private book, a gift for him, with some of his texts. The project ended up being published with the name of Ode to Happiness (2011), and included ink drawings that Alexandra made. "In 2013," says the artist, "I was in Paris and you were in Los Angeles, and a friend of mine, a former Playboy editor in France, asked me if we could get together again and create a new text image for Zeitgeist magazine. She sent him an email; he answered right away. "It was Friday morning in Paris, and my mobile went beep beep beep, and it was you, despite the time difference, frantically sending me the first texts."
"I was really inspired," Keanu says.
That collaboration ended up being converted into a second book, Shadows, published this same year by Steidl.
Alexandra Grant (Ohio, 1973) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles who often relies on texts from other authors to create her work. In this second book, she exchanges ink for images and photographs of the shadow of Keanu, who once again contributed the text.
"The first photo shoot was the first weekend of November 2013. You were in New York filming John Wick. The concept was to have a light source in the middle of the darkness, so I went to your apartment in the afternoon, moved the furniture and took the photos, "says Alexandra.
"Yes! I took off my shoes, took off my shirt ... put on my jeans and then we started," Keanu says. To get the pictures, Keanu 'dances' in the dark, like in that song by Bruce Springsteen, while Alexandra shoots.
"I remember you mocking me for how I was directing you. I didn't tell you to move left or right or to move your arm ... it was more a question of..."
"Yes," - interrupts the actor. "It was, 'show me the vulnerability' 'show me the loneliness'... which, thank you. As an actor you need a clear vision. I revoked that for you.... That's how the instrument comes to life. You're playing it and I provide the music."
"I have to say," Alexandra intervenes, "that it was an honor to do that. I said, 'Damn, I'm directing you!'"
Keanu Reeves, speaking to his friend Alexandra, is very interested in the artistic process. In fact, he explains that his intention to write the texts was "to treat internal aspects, mourning, mortality, the idea of relationship with God, with nature, our independence as we feel controlled in this life we live." His favorite verse, he says, is the one that opens the book: 'I was born twisted, I do not want to die.'
"It's very intense! I needed to make coffee when I received it, "says Alexandra. "Well, it's true because I was born that way," says Keanu. "I was a big baby, tubed and with crooked legs. Born literally twisted."
But what brings the art to Keanu? "In a selfish way, I am very grateful to have been able to express a point of view through the interpretation. I always thought that art should be restorative, even dark or defiant art. We should always give something back."
"Maybe an act of rebellion?"
"As a boy, I loved Mercutio - a character in Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare - because I liked the fact that he was a kind of idiot who sacrificed himself for others. I was always attracted to that, although I'm not like that, but I love the idea. I guess he's an antihero. But how much art and rebellion... I don't know. I suppose it is in practice but not necessarily in effect. I mean, who would say today that Impressionism is an act of rebellion? They'd say it's nice."
"Yes, especially now that you can find it in pictures in bathrooms in any house, "she jokes.
KEANU, IN MOVEMENT
Reeves (Beirut, 1964) is one of the most well-known actors of past years. He was an icon of the 90s, the protagonist in films like My Own Private Idaho (1991), Dracula (1992), Speed (1994) and the Matrix saga (1999 to 2003). And he is a rare example of normality in the Hollywood of excesses. At our meeting in Alexandra's workshop, outside Los Angeles, he arrived by subway.
"If you're in NYC it's good to take the subway. In Chicago, sometimes you have to take the bus; and in LA public transportation is improving ... But I generally like to travel by motorcycle. I always liked the life I had when I was 16 or 17 years old. It's the basis of my existence. My life doesn't prevent me from moving around the world. It represents my independence."
The actor today has a good relationship with nostalgia, which is usually linked to icons. "Turning 40 was shocking, I had the sensation of having come to the end of the road that I'd dreamed of as a child. That the hopes, dreams and sorrows of a young person, I mean until the age of 25, they'd either come true or not and that road was over. I have no children and I am not married ... I arrived at a new place where I began to contemplate my death. And today, at 52, I have assumed it as fact and I've begun to prepare for it," he reasons, intensely.
Keanu continues to make movies because he loves "what happens after someone says 'action!'". Although sometimes it doesn't go well. He still likes to "approach the edge of the cliff and jump ... and find out who that person is who's jumping and what story is being told." But that does not mean that art has to necessarily have a social commitment. "I think the answer depends on the situation, the social context. At the outset, I would say no... What art is protest and what art is meant to keep those who are asleep asleep? What makes you wonder? Is entertainment valuable? Do we have time for entertainment? There is a part of me that says yes and another that says no."
Alexandra, for her part, is a lover of reading and words. "All my life I've always wanted to find something that would inspire me as an artist. I wanted to base my career on something I love and that is always there. I am a reader, I love writing; it transports you away from the 'I' to something larger than yourself. I admire the writers and I am very interested to know what happens when we hear a word, as we visualize it, because it can be something totally subjective," she explains. Shadows is one more step, because it depends on photography and its use of light. "I think the photos are a record of a non-verbal communication between Keanu as an actor and I as a photographer and witness. He trusted me, because many times he could not see the images I created. It was a kind of private performance that I captured with the camera."
Her favorite image, she says, is the one that closes the book, with the text "Did you know all along?" And that shows "an arm extended towards the infinite" that seems waiting to receive something from another person. It also references a phrase by the writer Malcolm Lowry, who she read in the book Under the Volcano and that comes to say "I have no house to offer you, but you can stay whenever you want in my shadow." I like this idea; what happens between two people when they are in the shade."
"What strikes me is the invitation," says Keanu.
"Yes, he is very generous," she concludes.
The talk continues between new reflections on the idea of shadow ("For me it can speak of your hidden identity, but also of a psychological space, and besides, you can not escape your shadow... except in the dark," analyzes Keanu); her favorite movie ("The Gods Must Be Crazy"), where she was fascinated by the idea that a bottle of Coca-Cola thrown from an airplane could unravel a series of events); how much is eaten in Germany, and even the music group My Bloody Valentine. But let's end by talking about what the most powerful message art can pose society today is.
Alexandra: "Art can reflect the diversity of human life and at the same time remind us that we are all the same: we are people who eat, we want to be loved... The most beautiful thing is the ability to see the divine in another person.
Keanu: Art is the only agent that organizes something, although it does not always provide an answer. Besides, you cannot set limits. The clothes we wear, the things we create... these are living things, real things. It doesn't always need to be Picasso.
Alexandra: It is difficult to be an artist and ask about the purpose of art. Our purposes are very personal at times. But I'm interested in exploration. There is a book by Picasso precisely about how he had the sensation of printing money when he painted because he knew what he would gain from them. I prefer to feel uncomfortable creating.
Keanu: Make art and not war!
Alexandra: Hahaha. Is this the grand finale of our interview?