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.”

‘Forever Marilyn’ in Stamford, Connecticut

The world’s media has been eager to report on the alleged controversy caused by the summer-long installation of Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn‘ at Latham Park in Stamford, Connecticut. The sculpture, inspired by the iconic ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch, shows Marilyn’s dress blowing in the wind – and its placement has her rear end facing a local church.

Although the headlines would have us believe that the church’s response has been one of puritanical outrage, the reality is more nuanced – with even the harshest critics stating that it wasn’t Marilyn herself that they found distasteful, but the overtly sexual way in which she is depicted.

“I just find the position to be offensive,” local resident Lorri Tamburro told the Stamford Advocate. “I looked at it and it was, in my eyes, very disrespectful. I think because with what I saw with all the little kids looking up, the height is ruining it. It’s ruining beautiful Marilyn.”

Parishioner Jean Meyer, however, felt differently. “You’re going to have different opinions on it, but you have to have a sense of humor,” she said. “There are bigger issues to worry about,” said another church member, Maureen Matthews. “But I’ll be interested to see how people talk about it on Sunday.”

“It is art and we don’t believe it’s offensive,” said Sandy Goldstein, who helped to organise this year’s ‘Art in Public Spaces’ exhibit. Pointing out that many nude female statues can be seen in Europe (including near churches), she added, “We absolutely mean no disrespect to the church.”

“The issue is, why that statue?” Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman of the First Congregational Church wrote in an email to the Associated Press. “Marilyn Monroe was an artist deserving our respect. Why appropriate her image in this way. Is this the best we can do?”

In a report for HuffPost, Carol Kuruvilla spoke with Yonkman:

“He said he understands the statue is a ‘piece of art’ that is ‘designed to make the viewer uncomfortable … It makes me uncomfortable,’ Yonkman told HuffPost in an email. ‘The question for each one of us is, What will you do with your discomfort? I am choosing grace.’.

Yonkman said he and his congregation, which is part of the progressive mainline Protestant denomination the United Church of Christ, don’t plan on taking any action about the placement of the statue. Instead, they want to use it as an opportunity to connect with their community.

The church has been planning to host a Pride event in Latham Park to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. ‘Marilyn is a gay icon, so it turns out that this may be a fortuitous coincidence,’ Yonkman wrote.”

Marilyn Brushes Up in Fresno

FranCisco Vargas has updated his 20 year-old painting of Marilyn, which adorns an outside wall of the Weco Building Supplies building in Fresno, California. The mural now features Marilyn holding a paintbrush instead of a cigarette, reports the Fresno Bee.