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When poet Cleo Wade and Oscar- and Emmy-nominated writer-producer-director Simon Kinberg (The Martian, X-Men: First Class, The 355, Invasion) got engaged in 2019, the evening was enveloped in art.
A few days before Kinberg proposed — at a get-together at their home — their friend, civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, sent a photo of the couple to artist Brandon Breaux. The artist in turn created a multicolored drawing based on the photo showing the couple in outline. On the night of the engagement, Mckesson also gave postcard-size prints of the work to guests. “They wrote little things on the back and drew on [them]. It was so sweet,” recalls Wade. “It was a cool way of having art be alive.”
The night was a snapshot of the way the pair approach art collecting, with a focus on works that express freedom and joyfulness. “We both really respond to something that looks really free,” says Wade, author of the books What the Road Said and Heart Talk. “We collect based on a range of emotions, with probably the most dominant one being joy.”
The couple also has an interest in works that employ collage and “artwork engaging in contemporary life and social critique, with an emphasis on the Black lived experience,” says their art adviser, Jelena Kristic, who began working with Kinberg in 2016.
“We have never felt we should get any piece from anybody,” says Wade, noting that in selecting artworks, the couple thinks about acquiring pieces by “the people we think are the best in their field, and a lot of women, Black women, women of color, and queer artists are the best artists in the world.”
At their Brentwood home, their collection ranges from the Raymond Pettibon and Wolfgang Tillmans pieces that Kinberg collected before the duo met to a dreamy surrealist painting by Francesco Clemente (a mentor of Wade’s) and a set of colorful Kara Walker silhouettes. Other works include painted spray-paint cans by New Orleans artist Brandan “BMike” Odums (who did the cover portrait of Will Smith’s memoir Will) and an eight-foot-tall multilayered painting by L.A.-based artist Corey Pemberton.
“As someone who’s always loved art, to live with it is a transformative experience. And it’s a great investment, though I don’t intend to sell any of these things,” says Kinberg, whose credits also include Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Deadpool. He’s currently writing and producing Universal’s Battlestar Galactica movie and producing Lift at Netflix with F. Gary Gray directing Kevin Hart.
Kinberg, who has a long-held love of collage art, says, “I don’t know why I like it, but it would probably be for similar reasons that I like working in film and TV. There’s something about bringing together disparate elements to create a singular final product that interests me.”
Among their favorite art shows in recent years were Lorna Simpson Everrything at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles (“It was beyond,” says Wade) and a show of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York in 2019.
As for current shows in L.A., the two recommend going to the recently reopened Underground Museum to see its show of works by the late painter and museum co-founder Noah Davis.
Wade, who has long collected portraits of Black subjects from vintage stores (including Sunbeam Vintage in Highland Park), offers advice for someone new to collecting: “Buy art from a friend — someone you know is making art. Or go to a thrift store. Finds things that just make you happy.”
“Art doesn’t always have to be fancy,” she continues. “An art book can be art. Because ultimately art is about what you like and what puts you in a good mood when you walk in and what makes you feel inspired. There are drawings by our daughter that do that.”
Deborah Roberts’ Either by the hawk of the dove; I am the seed and the bloom; Sewed together
Kinberg and Wade — the parents of two daughters, 2-year-old Memphis and 5-month-old Bayou — say that their eldest loves this mixed-media triptych by Austin-based artist Deborah Roberts. The work hangs in their dining room.
“Memphis goes up to it and says, ‘Hey, good morning,'” says Wade.
“It’s nice for them to be able to look up and see little girls,” adds Kinberg, who also has two sons, Toby, 16, and Oliver, 12, from a previous marriage.
Francesco Clemente’s 4-23-2020
The couple bought this watercolor, 4-23-2020, by the Italy-born artist when their first daughter was born. Wade credits the painter with helping her on her path as a writer.
“I lived in New York for 13 years and his studio used to be down the street from my house, so we became friends,” she recalls. “He’s a huge collector and reader of poetry, and he actually incorporates a lot of poetry into his work.”
“When I was first thinking about writing poetry,” continues Wade, “you didn’t really see people being poets for a living. This was 10 years ago, before this generation of poets that exists [now]. There was no marketplace. It was so hard. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think you can be a poet [and make] a living. But maybe you could be a Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer.”
So Wade started creating artworks that incorporated her writing. “They were like these gunky paintings with a lot of stuff going on, and Francesco was one of the first who saw them and was like, ‘You know, you’re really afraid that the words will be bad and that’s why you have all this stuff going on. If you just take a year to only work on the words, I think that will change your life.’ And I remember getting this little pink typewriter and writing and I [was] very precise with it. And I did that for a year, and two years after that Heart Talk came out.”
Corey Pemberton’s TT, I’m So Done With You
“It’s just joy,” says Kinberg of L.A.-based artist Corey Pemberton’s painting, acquired through Los Angeles’ UNREPD gallery (619 N. Western Ave.). Made of acrylic paint, jewelry found at swap meets and inkjet prints, the work is 8 feet tall.
“It’s far and away the biggest piece we have,” adds Kinberg. (The couple bought a number of holiday presents for friends and family at UNREPD last year including a photo by Alrinthea Carter and a ceramic vase by Dina Nur Satti.)
Raymond Pettibon’s No Title (The pages are)
Another piece he loves is an early artwork by Andy Warhol that depicts a recipe. It looks very little like Warhol’s later works, made when he had established a signature style. “As a writer, especially when you are writing drafts and drafts of things — ‘The first draft is terrible. I’m not any good. I should quit the job’ — well, you know that the greatest artists of all time started with some sketches. It helps you survive.”
Brandon Breaux Artwork
“We were all in the living room and they were cuddling on the couch and I took a picture,” recalls friend and activist DeRay Mckesson of snapping a pic of the couple that became the basis for this drawing by Brandon Breaux.
The Chicago-based artist’s work includes album covers for Chance the Rapper as well as the cover of the late John Lewis’ final book, Carry On. “Brandon is very special in our life,” says Wade. “The first Hanukkah present I ever gave Simon was a Brandon Breaux.” Adds Mckesson, “What I’ve always loved about Cleo’s eye is that she knows what she likes.”
Wolfgang Tillmans’ “in the morning”
Kinberg and Wade own a number of works by German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, including a self-portrait by the artist as well as “in the morning,” a photo of the music artist Frank Ocean.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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