Catch the Beat at Takeshi Kitano's Paris Show

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Whale of a time Dry humor is often a component of Kitano's paintings

It can often seem affected when people prominent in other fields decide to take up painting. But in the case of Japanese polymath "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, it's just one more expression of the 63-year-old's restless intelligence — alongside his work as a comedian, filmmaker, actor, TV presenter and poet.

A selection of Kitano's paintings, which he began producing after a serious motorbike crash in 1994, are on display at Paris' Fondation Cartier, along with videos, objects and installations, in the exhibition "Gosse de Peintre" (The Painter's Kid). The Centre Pompidou is also hosting a Kitano film and TV retrospective, and his memoir, Kitano par Kitano, written with French journalist Michel Temman, has just started gracing Parisian bookstores.

Kitano is bemused by the attention. "They probably ran out of ideas," is his explanation for the invitation to exhibit at Fondation Cartier. Childhood is the show's theme, but Kitano warns that "Gosse de Peintre" is less Disneyland and more Hanayashiki Park — a fairground in Tokyo's Asakusa district that's "very old-fashioned and run down. It doesn't cost much, but it has its own unique beauty."

That down-to-earth attitude is the product of Kitano's working-class background. A childhood math whiz and boxer (embodying the combination of brains and brawn for which his films are famous), he dropped out of university, eventually becoming a comic and actor. He began directing films in 1989, attributing his ensuing success as a filmmaker to what he saw as a "lack of self-discipline" in the Japanese film industry. "That has led them to suffer from [a director] like myself," he says, "a complete outsider." He applies similar self-deprecation to his painting. When he took it up, he says, "I thought maybe I could become like the next Van Gogh. I bought a sunflower and painted it, and it looked like the work of a 6-year-old."

Happily, he has improved since then. "Gosse de Peintre" runs until Sept. 12. See for further details.