This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most influential pop albums ever made. The cover – a collage by artist Peter Blake – features the Fab Four lining up alongside more than sixty of the last century’s most iconic figures. Marilyn is there, as photographed by Ben Ross in 1953. BBC Music have compiled a mini-documentary for each one: Marilyn’s includes newsreel footage from her arrival in England to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. You can watch the clip here.
“Marilyn Monroe, I (1962)
James Rosenquist painted this inverted and fragmented portrait of Marilyn Monroe just following her unexpected death in 1962. Like fellow Pop artist Andy Warhol, Rosenquist transformed Marilyn’s iconic image. But whereas Warhol used well-known photographs of the celebrity sex symbol repetitiously, Rosenquist chose to present her in a manner that denied immediate recognition, while preserving her coquettishness. He achieved this by breaking apart her eyes, lips, and hand, reassembling the pieces into a seemingly random configuration, and boldly overlaying letters that are themselves fragments of her name.
Below the lettering appears a fragment of the word ‘Coca-Cola’ in the soda’s trademark script. Through this association with branding, mass-production, and popular culture, the artist draws attention not so much to Monroe as a person as to how she was packaged in the mass media and marketed based on her sex appeal, here synecdochically referred to through images of her smiling mouth and attractive blue eyes artistically repackaged. Rosenquist’s painting of Marilyn Monroe is one of countless others painted by his contemporaries, including Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning, that attest to the increasing power of mass media and its impact on art production during the 1960s.
Oil and spray enamel on canvas – Museum of Modern Art, New York”
Orange is the New Black is not just a TV prison drama, but also the title of Los Angeles-based artist Knowledge Bennett’s first solo exhibit in New York, tracing the history of race in modern America through a Pop Art perspective. The show includes a section devoted to Marilyn, Good Girl Gone Bad (also the title of an album by Rihanna, who is featured elsewhere.)
Bennett’s portraits of Marilyn pay homage to Andy Warhol, but crucially they add a sharp political edge to the ‘gangsta’ images of MM that adorn T-shirt stalls across the globe. The artist spoke about why he chose to depict Marilyn this way in an interview with Art ON!
“Quite often I seek to alter popular images in a very minimal way to tell a very different story. With my Marilyn Monroe series Good Girl Gone Bad, I simply added a tied bandana scarf around her head to make a statement of defiance and courage.
While researching the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, I was shocked to learn of Marilyn Monroe’s involvement and influence in helping to break the color barrier (in the entertainment industry) which existed during these times.
I developed a newfound respect for her and her contributions to society at large. To learn that this woman, who was mostly known only as a major film star and sex symbol, had the balls and compassion for others to go out on a limb and make this happen is something worth acknowledging.”
Marilyn inspired many within the Pop Art movement, including Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and Pauline Boty. Now another British artist of this period has come to light, with a recent exhibition and a profile in The Guardian. Sue Dunkley produced at least two paintings based on photographer John Bryson‘s 1960 cover story for Life magazine, and the private drama that unfolded between the Millers and the Montands during filming of Let’s Make Love.
“This substantial series of Pop Art paintings on large canvas have recently been rediscovered in Dunkley’s London studio by her daughter and brother. The works in the series were produced between 1968 and 1972, and notably take as their subject the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, the female body, and human relationships, often touched by violence and betrayal. A large number of pastel studies for these works and independent sketches have also been discovered, many of which explore intimacy, sexuality and the role of women in changing eras.
These works are often populated by numerous faces and figures, sometimes difficult to discern and placed in uneasy dialogue with one another. Dunkley herself often appears in the works, looking on or departing, merging the political and personal in both intimate and yet culturally significant works of art. These early works employ the bold and graphic language of Pop Art, referencing familiar media imagery and fashion photography. Recognisable images such as Ethel Kennedy’s screaming face and outstretched hand following Robert Kennedy’s assassination alongside images of Marylin Monroe recur, as if ghosts on the edge of these significant events and moments in history. Dunkley returned to Monroe often, fascinated by her seemingly irreconcilable sexuality and vulnerability, the impossible expectations placed on her to be both child and sex symbol.”
Curtis Sneary, a pop artist living in St Petersburg, Florida is the subject of a new exhibition, as Janelle Faignant reports for Creative Loafing. And on his own website, Sneary shows how he created his painting, ‘Marilyn Monroe Selfie‘, a tongue-in-cheek update to her famous ‘subway scene’ in The Seven Year Itch. (Fans will know that Marilyn visited St Petersburg in 1961, while ex-husband Joe DiMaggio was coaching the New York Yankees.)
“Sneary and his wife have lived in St. Pete for 14 years now. They are a team in his artwork, with Beth handling business issues and modeling for many pieces, (her body became Marilyn Monroe’s in that painting) and their goal is to make their whole house into a studio in the near future.
Sneary says the answer to the question ‘How long does it take to finish?’ is a lifetime.
‘Because you put all this knowledge into it,’ he says, adding that the physical work averages about 40 hours, or a month to six weeks.
Sneary has shown the landscapes in galleries and sold well but his satirical pop art has been slower to sell, despite its popularity with audiences.
‘It’s not over-the-couch kind of work,’ he says.”
Pop artist Russell Young’s latest exhibition, Superstar, draws on two iconic beauties from different eras – Marilyn, and British model Kate Moss – and is on display at London’s Halcyon Gallery until February 14. James Fisher reviewed it for The Upcoming.
“Art, like every other aspect of modern culture, is subject to the fashion of the day. Luckily for Russell Young, the current fashion appears to be pop art. His latest solo exhibition,Superstar, is another wonderful example of a genre that seems to be moving from strength to strength.
Superstar is described as an ‘exploration into the visual nature of fame and celebrity’ and it certainly fulfils its promise … From humble beginnings in North Yorkshire, he moved to London and then the US, where he began to fully focus on his art in the year 2000. He describes how watching a film of Marilyn Monroe in his younger years in England motivated him to seek out new adventure in his later life. It was that sense of silver screen wonder, beautifully captured in this exhibition …
Taking inspiration from the great pop artists of the 60s and 70s, Young leans heavily on the screen printing process … Young’s use of colour creates an atmosphere of 60s grandeur, with colours named Vegas and California Gold allowing us to briefly imagine those places at the time. This is not just a celebration of fame, however, but also a reminder of its lows. Marilyn Crying shows us the human side of celebrity; there’s no diamond dust here, just a girl with the world’s eyes upon her, showing us a brief moment of real emotion … We are presented with a celebration of a period arguably started by Monroe and finished by Moss and this is undoubtedly one of the finest exhibitions of its kind.”
Pop art images of Marilyn by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Mel Ramos, Russell Young and Mr Brainwash – as well as photos by Lawrence Schiller – feature in ‘Les Marilyn’, an exhibition at the Galerie Tagliatella in Paris, on display until July 27.
Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.
During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”
Martin Sharp, the Australian pop artist famed for his psychedelic portrait of Bob Dylan, first published on the cover of counter-cultural magazine Oz in 1967 and later an ubiquitous student poster, has died, reports the New York Times.
In 1973, Sharp painted Still Life: Marilyn, a surrealist work that channels both Andy Warhol and Vincent Van Gogh, as explained on the National Gallery of Australia website:
“The painting that Sharp did with artist Tim Lewis, Still life: Marilyn 1973, pays homage to both Warhol and Marilyn Monroe. In the months that followed Monroe’s death in August 1962, Warhol made more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, combining two of his consistent preoccupations: death and the cult of celebrity. Sharp initially made a collage of the still life by pasting Warhol’s image of Monroe from a Tate Gallery poster onto a print of the much-reproduced Sunflowers by Van Gogh.
‘This collage was only possible to me at the time because Marilyn’s green eyeshadow was the same green as the background of the sunflowers. There was also an echo of Marilyn’s life and Vincent’s. They were both great artists, they died at a similar age and one could describe Marilyn as a sunflower. I called the painting Still life, because though they had left this world they were still alive in their art and influence …2‘
Although the painting Still life: Marilyn was done later than the collage, the idea had come about while Sharp was living in London. Like many young Australian artists, he was drawn to the the swinging sixties in London where he lived from 1967 to 1969.”
Scarlett Johansson may have tried to distance herself from being compared to Marilyn (see here), but it seems that Interview magazine has other ideas. This Andy Warhol-esque cover graces the Russian edition for February, which is fitting as the Godfather of Pop Art himself was also the magazine’s founder.
Scarlett recently played another iconic star, Janet Leigh, in Hitchcock, and is currently starring as Maggie in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.