John Bailey: Washington’s Marilyn Muralist

John Bailey, the artist behind the famous Marilyn mural in Washington D.C., has died, as John Kelly reports for the Washington Post. (The mural is based on a 1955 photo by Milton Greene, and was created in 1981.)

“John Bailey died last week in Richmond. He was responsible for one of Washington’s most famous paintings, even if you never knew it was he who painted it: the Marilyn Monroe mural in Woodley Park.

I mentioned the mural last week in my column about one of the men who commissioned it, hair stylist Roi Barnard. It was an odd but fitting coincidence that Bailey passed away at age 78 just as I was preparing the article for publication.

‘It was just so beautiful,’ Barnard said of his reaction the first time he saw Bailey’s mural, painted in 1981 on the side of the Connecticut Avenue NW salon Roi ran with his then-partner, Charles Stinson.

For Barnard, it was a literal dream come true: He had seen the mural in his sleep.

Bailey spent a year living in Barnard and Stinson’s house at 16th and Colorado NW. The artist used it as a base of operations while he painted the bottom of their swimming pool (another Marilyn) and worked on portraits.

Bailey was also a dancer and was married to the grande dame of dance in Virginia, Frances Wessells, who survives him.

‘He meshed photorealism with a painterly touch,’ [Robbie] Kinter said. ‘Even though he was a photorealist, he had a beautiful sense of design. I think he really saw beauty in things.’

Bailey’s Marilyn was one of the first murals in a city that has since become famous for them. Her lips are parted, her eyelids heavy. She fills the frame, an inscrutable memorial in this monumental town.

‘He made a beautiful, physical mark on this city that has nothing to do with politics. And not everyone can say that,’ said Nancy Tartt, who met Bailey when she studied dance at George Washington University.”

Roi Barnard Reveals Story Behind Marilyn Mural

This Marilyn mural, in the Woodley Park district of Washington D.C., was commissioned almost 40 years ago by a local hairdresser. Roi Barnard, former owner of Salon Roi (and author of a new memoir) has shared the story behind this much-loved local landmark with the Washington Post.

“What do you see when you look at Marilyn Monroe gazing down at the corner of Connecticut and Calvert streets NW? A beautiful woman? A movie star? An icon?

Roi Barnard sees himself.

‘When I saw Marilyn for the first time on screen, I just went, Whoa, you’re not happy either,’ said Roi, the District hairdresser who helped commission the famed mural in 1981. ‘And I saw it in her eyes.’

‘My love affair with Marilyn started when I was 12,’ said Roi as he gently, but firmly, tilted my head to the left. ‘Her star was just beginning to rise. I forget which movie I saw first, but I saw her, and I saw in her eyes, my eyes. We had sad eyes. No matter how happy she was, I knew she was sad. And I related to that.’

Roi doesn’t seem sad now, at age 81. It wasn’t always that way.

‘I was a sissy little boy,’ Roi said. That was not an easy thing to be where he grew up: in tiny Poplar Branch, N.C., a place of dirt roads and outhouses … Roi came out of the closet in the 1960s, determined to be honest about his sexuality. He became a model, changing his name from ‘Roy’ to the more memorable ‘Roi.’ He learned to cut hair and worked as a hairdresser at the Washington Hilton. In 1969, he and Charles Stinson — his business partner and onetime romantic partner — opened a salon together.

In 1981, Charles commissioned artist John Bailey to paint the Marilyn mural. It’s become a landmark, even if most passersby don’t know how personal the image is to Roi.

‘She carried me through a very troubling part of my life,’ Roi said. ‘I would just go see her movies or read about her. I connected with her.’ Putting Marilyn on the wall wasn’t advertising, Roi said. It was homage.”

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