The question of "does art imitate life or does life imitate art?" has raged for generations, but for La Salle painter John Kettman art imitates art.

Since 2006, some of Kettman's leading muses have been the contestants on the reality talent show contest "American Idol." During these years, he has put increasing time and effort into his paintings of the casts of these shows, which he also has managed to have autographed by the "idols," following live concert performances.

"I went to two shows to get that completely signed," he said, pointing at his most recent American Idol cast portrait.

He got most of the recent Idols' signatures at a show in Milwaukee but with at least one Idol too sick to greet fans after the show, he was left holding out hope to complete the signature collection at a concert in the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

Although hometown boy Danny Gokey was a star at the Milwaukee show, Kettman said Adam Lambert, who finished second in the competition amidst a controversy surrounding his sexuality and voting procedures, was the overall show stealer.

"When he (Lambert) went on the stage it was like someone super, super famous up there," Kettman said.

Kettman also painted a solo portrait of Adam Lambert, which he had autographed, and gave as a gift to his daughter, a junior at La Salle-Peru Township High School.

"Anybody who can do a love ballad by Tears for Fears then come out and do "Fame" by David Bowie and then pull out "Whole lotta love" by Led Zeppelin is really talented," Kettman said.

Kettman has long had an interest in capturing pop star likenesses in paint and recently expanded into wooden cut-outs of pop content outside the "American Idol" realm.

He began with a 6-foot painted cut-out of the Beatles, circa Yellow Submarine, and now is in the middle of creating a pair of classic cinematic pool sharks to guard the walls around his basement billiards table.

"I've always liked pool and the movie the "The Hustler" with Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman," Kettman said with a half-finished Paul Newman stand-up staring over his shoulder. The Jackie Gleason cut-out, featuring a pasted on silk carnation on his jacket, already is mounted on the basement wall.

Lacking access to the actual stars, Kettman has to closely review images found online and carefully screen old movies.

"I watched "The Long, Hot Summer" about six times and "The Hustler" about 20 times," Kettman said.

Not willing to trust his creative vision in anyone else's hands, he not only paints the new wooden projects but also does the cutting.

"What would I do if I put two-three weeks into something and gave it someone else to cut out and he cuts the hand off," Kettman considered.

The basement also is display area to a number of Kettman's other works from a glow-in-the-dark Alice Cooper portrait that he painted and had autographed last year to a large Michael Jackson portrait he did in 1981.

With the recent death of film star Patrick Swayze, Kettman is considering his next cutout: a "Dirty Dancing"-themed project, featuring Swayze and co-star Jennifer Grey.

In the future, Kettman is planning on doing portraits and caricature drawings in the area, including at the Hidden Treasure Flea Market in Peru.

He also has a vision of going beyond pop culture and painting a large public mural, perhaps on the wall of a downtown building.

"I know I've got it in me. Give me a wall and let me loose," Kettman said, as he began brainstorming ideas that might visually encompass the city's recent and distant history.

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