(CNN) -- There's something strange about seeing Sylvester Stallone get deep and thoughtful.
It's like sitting through one of those plays where prisoners perform Shakespeare -- it's just unexpected.
Likewise, the side of Sly on show in his new art exhibit at The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, is far from the pages of People.
Dealing with themes like triumph, failure and chaos, Stallone reveals himself as a man who's more than just a gruff, muscled hero out to beat the odds, but someone who's emotional and even intellectual.
Stallone is just starting to unleash his paintings on the world. His first exhibition was in Switzerland in 2011. Apparently, Stallone's been painting for nearly 50 years -- even before he started acting.
The exhibition -- which includes three dozen paintings -- describes painting as his first love. But, an introduction reads, "due to financial problems, he had to become an actor." Because that's the first thing you do if you're poor: act.
'Never Ever Land'
Stallone's work is influenced by abstract expressionism.
It's as if emotion is thrown onto the canvasses in red (Stallone's favorite color, according to the museum), black and yellow.
Each painting lives in its own world, like "Never Ever Land," 2010, where Stallone paints the downfall of Michael Jackson, who's life is collapsing around him as he's dressed in his iconic 1990s military jacket, with strands of black hair draped over his face.
Beyond the recurrent self-portraits of himself as his legendary "Rocky" character bleeding in a boxing ring, there are also more whimsical paintings, including one in which Stallone scrawled phrases like "Time, Billy Bob," "The Arts Endure You" and "Whores."
When it comes to modern art, Stallone is no Andy Warhol -- though the exhibit does feature photos Warhol took of his friend Stallone.
Many of the visitors crowding into the museum's narrow halls say they never knew Stallone painted. They come because they're fans of his movies, like 20-year-old Daniel Schneider, visiting from Moscow.
"He's very popular. So many people have seen his films in Russia."
But that's about as far as Stallone's talent goes, he says. "It's not good. But there are some interesting elements."
Others have a more imaginative view of Stallone the painter.
"I think it's a new system for Sylvester Stallone to explain his creativity," says Italian tourist Maiolino Alessandro.
Russian communists don't like his art though. They unsuccessfully protested the opening of the exhibition because of Stallone's role in "Rambo," in which he goes on a communist-killing crusade.
Expect the unexpected
Even if you don't enjoy Stallone's work, on- or off-screen, it may be worth the visit if only to see the Italian Stallion in a different light.
The exhibition runs through January 13.
The State Russian Museum, St. Michael's Castle, 2 Sadovaya Street, and The Marble Palace, 5/1 Millionnaya Street, St. Petersburg, Russia; +7 812 313 41 12; open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; tickets for adults RUB 300 ($9.91), students RUB 150 ($4.95)