It was her fame, eroticism, and mysterious death that fascinated Warhol and inspired a “painted print” series honoring Marilyn Monroe. It was just after her mysterious suicide in 1962 that Warhol started the series. It ironically linked his previous work, which focused on images of death to his next phase: celebrity portraits.
Warhol’s portraits constitute a genuine gallery of the most influential and famous figures of his age. Politicians, movie stars, and art dealers are among the many named in this long list. They were emblems of beauty, glamour, and power.
Marilyn Monroe Montage
It is fitting that Miss Beauty and Glamour Herself begins Warhol’s tribute to Hollywood’s celebrities. Like many of his star models, Warhol actually met Monroe in person. “She fascinated me as she did the rest of America,” Warhol was quoted saying in I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews by Kenneth Goldsmith.
The Marilyn series was a reproduction of the famous promotional image for the 1953 film “Niagara.” He made the photo into a silkscreen and screened a single image of her face onto small canvases. He then multiplied her image in Six Marilyns, Marilyn Twenty Times, and One Hundred Marilyns. In some pieces he just painted her ruby lips and blonde hair with contrasting skin colors. In another Marilyn, he took multiple images of her lips, one of her most sensual and familiar features, creating a sort of kissing machine. For the famous Gold Marilyn Monroe, he painted the entire canvas with gold paint with a single picture of her face in the silkscreen depicting her as a goddess of sensuality.
A turning point in Warhol’s career was when Architect Philip Johnson, director of the Architecture and Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased Gold Marilyn Monroe for the museum. This gave Warhol great credence in the art world especially when a panel of critics, curators, and art historians saw his Gold Marilyn in the museum. That day they named the new modern art movement “Pop Art” short for popular, with Warhol as a pioneer.
Through his career, he went on to do portraits of many other well-known figures such as Mao, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Taylor, and Dolly Parton. Even his self-portraits became famous for his unique imagery and conceptual style.
He created his usually larger-than-life portraits by first taking a snapshot of the subject, often with a simple Polaroid camera. He would then blow it up and transfer it in glue onto silk, and then toll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. Using this silkscreen method, you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was simple, quick, and chancy.
It was like an art assembly line, creating works with double or multiple portraits emphasizing the overwhelming presence of his models in popular culture. The multiple images created a sense of a manufactured celebrity made by Hollywood.
The more celebrity portraits he did increased his own fame and wealth. It not only increased the amount of celebrities he actually knew personally but the ease of replicating these portraits gave a boost to his success and profits. Warhol never concealed the fact that the genre had become an easy money-making tool for him.