In 1967, Warhol established a print-publishing business, Factory Additions, through which he published a series of screenprint portfolios on his signature subjects. Marilyn Monroe was the first one. He used the same publicity still of the actress that he had previously used for dozens of paintings. Each image here was printed from five screens: one that carried the photographic image and four for different areas of color, sometimes printed off-register. About repetitions Warhol said, “The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.”
For Warhol, Marilyn was already a familiar subject. He initially began depicting the actress in the Marilyn Diptych, 1962, shortly after her death. The Marilyn Diptych is a silkscreen painting which contains fifty images of the actress, all taken from the 1953 film Niagara. Warhol explained:
“In August 62 I started doing silkscreens. I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect. With silkscreening you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it. When Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face the first Marilyns.”
Half of the Marilyn diptych was heavily pigmented while the other half was colored in black and white. Overall, the work was a commentary on the relation between Monroe’s life and death. The format of the Marilyn Diptych, 1962, mirrors the form of a Christian work of art depicting the Virgin Mary on one side and the crucified Jesus on the other. The comparison with the religious work references the idolization of Marilyn Monroe.
Each print is vibrantly colored to reflect her vivacious personality. In many of the prints, her iconic lips are boldly colored a deep red. Many of the prints also emphasize her platinum blonde hair by adding variants of yellow. In one of the prints, the actress is colored in silver and black, a stark departure from its vivid counterparts. This brings to mind the effect of watching the actress on the cinema screen in black and white. The dark colors are also a somber reminder of the actress’s passing. The colors ultimately bring to life Marilyn Monroe’s iconic status and celebrity glamour. By creating repetitive imagery, Warhol evokes her ubiquitous celebrity status.
While Campbell’s Soup Can may remain Andy’s signature image, his Marilyn paintings epitomise his obsession with celebrity, beauty and death. Indeed, Warhol had now found the medium that best suited his ambition to mirror mass culture icons and products, and he moved into two signature bodies of work; the disasters and the celebrities. Both of these subjects were realized in the portraits of Marilyn.
Warhol had assembled a huge collection of publicity photos of the silver screen sex symbol, selecting one as the source material for his silkscreens. In this series the artist developed the silkscreen process that he would perfect over the ensuing decades. Contrary to expectations, Warhol would paint the canvas in a variety of colours and then screen the image of Marilyn on top. The misregistration of the painting and the screenprint created a dynamic surface that he enhanced with a broad, spectrum of colours. The act of printing and painting in multiple variations shows Warhol playing with typical commercial art processes in order to explore the range of graphic possibilities in an image.
Marilyn was the centrepiece of Warhol’s solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in November 1962, Gold Marilyn Monroe, a memorial to the recently deceased celebrity, greet visitor at the entrance to the show. On the heels of ‘The New Realists’ exhibition that had opened one week earlier, this show was an instant hit and Marilyn was the leading star. The architect Philip Johnson bought the painting and donated it to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, launching Warhol on a successful career as an artist. It has also been argued that Warhol crafted Marilyn into an idol. At this point in her film career, she was a fading star. The popularity and proliferation of Warhol’s image of Marilyn revived her reputation as well as assuring the ascendancy of Warhol as a Pop star.
Time goes by but the world is still fascinated by both Marilyn and Andy. United in Warhol’s works forever, they remain symbols of one of the greatest and most controversial periods in the modern art.
I am happy to announce that two limited edition lithographs of Warhol’s Marilyn make part of the exclusive collection of curated art of Controforma Art & Design Space and it’s possible to purchase them for a special price.
- Fine original lithographs, signed (facsimile signature) and numbered by hand on high-quality BFK hand-torn paper. On the back stamped by Leo Castelli, New York; Art Gallery New York, 530 W 25th Street, New York, NY 10001; seal of tree of art life of New York.
- Limited edition of 100 units, number 92/100 (“cool brown”) or 84/100 (“warm brown”), respectively. Editor: Georges Israel (embossed, lower left). The lithograph is registered, Catalogue Razonado 1962 / 1987.
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