I was one of the first people to see Johnny Depp’s self-portrait – it had a profound effect on me

As Johnny Depp unveils his debut self-portrait, Charlotte Cripps explains how grateful she is for the one she was left by her late partner who died in 2014

Thursday 20 July 2023 17:01 BST
I was given a sneak preview of Depp’s artwork before it was revealed to the world
I was given a sneak preview of Depp’s artwork before it was revealed to the world (Courtesy of Castle Fine Art)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


I’m standing in front of Johnny Depp’s debut self-portrait. I’ve been given a sneak preview at London’s Castle Fine Art before it is announced to the world today. And it feels deeply personal.

I’m the first journalist from a national newspaper to lay eyes on it. They pull back a bifolding door and there it is, hanging against a navy blue wall.

At first look, the movie star just looks charismatic and handsome – I wonder if it’s a vanity project – but there is more to it than meets the eye.

“I would sit with a mirror and just sketch myself,” says Depp in his gruff voice in a video to accompany his work, which is titled “Five”.

He conceived the idea in 2021 at his close friend Ralph Steadman’s studio, when he was going through the legal cases against his ex-wife Amber Heard. It captures his emotional exhaustion during what he calls “five years of madness” – thus the title of the piece – and a difficult period that was “a bit dark, bit confusing”.

It’s perhaps the closest insight we will ever get to into Depp’s innermost feelings and emotions. With self-portraits though, how you interpret them can be exceedingly individual and varied.

The more I stare at his face, the more it changes. One minute, he looks a bit drained but defiant. The next, it’s sad and haunted. Then, he’s just got tonnes of sex appeal. His eyes and mouth are overlayed with red and white markings, like wounds.

The truth is, I can’t see his self-portrait on my bedroom wall – or myself paying £1,950 when it goes on sale today at 5pm, as a time-limited print edition for 13 days only.

Personally, I don’t want to wonder too much about Depp’s mental health. But I do hope one day somebody appreciates Depp’s self-portrait like I do with the one I was left.

I want to send him a note saying “I hope you realise Johnny how priceless it is for your loved ones, not your fanbase”.

I want to tell him of the impact a piece of art like that can have on a recipient. I want to tell him how grateful I am, every single day of my life, to be able to gaze at the self-portrait I have hanging in my flat in the hallway just outside my bathroom.

Like Depp, who reportedly immersed himself in the work as a means of creative healing – so did my late partner Alex. He was suffering from depression and turned to painting a few months before he died.

He set up an easel in our kitchen – it was the only time he said his mind switched off from all the negative chatter. And I was blown away. I’d heard a rumour he was a brilliant artist, but he said he was leaving it until very old age to get back into it.

But here he was, suddenly painting away, aged 49. There were the lifelike dog portraits for friends, even one of my dad that breathtakingly captures his true essence.

But it’s the self-portrait that means the most to me – even more now he’s gone. It’s as if he’s in the room. His eyes are truly his and he’s smiling through them.

Interestingly, it was painted just a few months before he tragically ended his own life – but you would never know it from this self-portrait.

There is something reassuringly loving about his gaze. It makes me wonder if he meant to leave it as a gift. Our two children often say goodnight to him – it’s all we have.

Depp is donating $200 from the proceeds of each sale to the charity Mental Health America. He said he hopes the piece may inspire others, stating: “If this piece resonates with even just one person, this art has purpose.” He’s missing the point, though.

When he’s dead, somebody who loves him will have the original hanging on the wall somewhere like I do with Alex’s – they will be able to feel close to him.

It’s speculated that Depp has already fetched millions for his portraits – his debut collection Friends & Heroes in 2022 includes ones of Al Pacino, Elizabeth Taylor and Bob Dylan, followed by more in 2023 of Heath Ledger and Hunter S Thompson.

But the truth about self-portraits is they are windows into the soul. People all over the world will be snapping them up, but it’s his family who see the real man.

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