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An Actor's Art

Billy Dee Williams (Photo by Jay Feinberg, courtesy of Tor Books)

As Lando Calrissian, he piloted the Millenium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. As himself, Billy Dee Williams paints impressionistic portraits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic African-American pilots whose real-life exploits changed the course of American military history. 

A number of Williams' paintings, including the Tuskegee Airmen Series, will be on display the New Orleans African-American Museum of Art, Culture and History until October 12. Early in 2000, many of the paintings will move to the National Air and Space Museum for an exhibit honoring the Tuskegee Airmen. 

"I've been working on the series for years," Williams said, "but I put it aside for a while, because I was working on other things too. But when [Air and Space Museum officials] saw the paintings, they decided they wanted to display them. And they wanted me to come up with more paintings." 

Juggling exhibit deadlines with writing and acting chores keeps Williams "pretty busy." But shifting from the fine to lively arts is nothing new for the actor, who trained to be a painter. 

"I was born and raised in New York, and went to Music and Art High School. After high school, I won a scholarship to the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design, where I spent two years studying fine arts," Williams said.  

Williams won the prestigious Guggenheim and Hallgarten Awards at 19, but his work on stage and screen soon overtook his interest in the fine arts. But when he returned to New York to star in the 1988 Broadway hit Fences, Williams also renewed his friendship with Peter Max. This in turn, renewed Williams' interest in painting. 

Now Williams eagerly anticipates opening his own gallery on the Web before the end of the year. "It will be called the Billy Dee Williams World Gallery. I'm going to show my paintings, seriographs, lithos -- even other people's works," he added with a smile. 

Williams' most famous character may even make an appearance at the gallery opening. At DragonCon July 1, Williams said, "I did a painting of Lando Calrissian, which is sort of a montage. I wanted to sell lithographs of it, but I needed the OK from Lucasfilms to do that. I just got the OK." 

Jean Marie Ward 

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