Arts and Entertainment

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn: Great Art Explained

Interviewer: “Andy, do you feel that the 
public has insulted your art?”   Andy: “Err no” “Why not?” – “Err, well i hadn’t thought about it”
“It doesn’t bother you at all then?” – “Err no” “Well, do you think that they’ve shown a lack of 
appreciation for what Pop Art means?” – “Err no”   “Andy, do you think that Pop Art has sort of reached the 
point where it’s becoming repetitious now?” – “Err, yes” “The late Marilyn Monroe” Andy Warhol made “Marilyn Diptych” in 1962,
right after Marilyn Monroe’s death. By the 1960’s  Marilyn’s film career as a sex symbol
was all but over. Warhol would effectively immortalise   Marilyn as THE sex symbol of the 20th century. The 
seductive blonde Marilyn with the heavy-lidded eyes, and parted lips, is frozen in time. She 
is transformed into the personification of   the allure and glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. 
Both Warhol and Marilyn understood transformation.   She was an abused foster child from the 
rural midwest, who transformed herself   into Hollywood royalty. And he was a shy, sickly, 
effeminate child of working class immigrants,   who transformed himself into the most famous and 
most controversial artist of his generation.   Marilyn would make Warhol a household 
name, and Warhol would make Marilyn an icon.   Pop Art came out of the post-war consumer boom
– a time of mass media and mass production. Advertising pushed televisions, new cars ,washing machines, and 
convenience foods. People were bombarded with image   after image, and art needed to reflect that. Pop art 
was inspired by popular culture and artists like   Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol used instantly 
accessible images to reach mass audiences. Their art would blur the boundaries of “High Art” and
“Low Culture”. It was in many ways a reaction against   Abstract Expressionism, the dominant artistic 
movement in the United States in the 1950s.   While Abstract Impressionists like Jackson Pollock 
produced spontaneous personal and emotional work,   Pop artists were producing depersonalised, 
objectified, and representational work.  Warhol had already produced two, of what would 
become, iconic Pop artworks but “Marilyn Diptych”   he produced just four months after her death, would 
cement his reputation as “The Prince of Pop art”.   Warhol was an early adopter of 
the silkscreen printmaking process.   He totally radicalized the art market by 
erasing a concept so important to Western Art:   “Uniqueness” and “Originality”. While Warhol didn’t 
invent the photographic silkscreen process,   he developed his own technique, by combining 
hand-painted backgrounds with photographic   silk screen printed images. 
To create unique works of art.   As an illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol had 
already started to work with repetition,   and a forerunner to printing. His “blotted 
line technique” which became his signature style. He would use tracing paper to allow him 
to create multiple images from the same drawing.  He would first trace his original drawing with 
ink in small sections so it stayed wet, then blot it onto absorbent paper, making a copy. Then he 
would fill in various copies using ink washes.   Silk screens are photographically exposed 
to the image, to make a stencil – then artists   transfer their artworks by pushing ink through 
the mesh using a squeegee, onto various surfaces,   including paper and fabric. One colour is 
printed at a time, so several screens must   be used to produce a multi-coloured image. It gives 
the artist the opportunity to repeatedly reproduce   the same image. “Marilyn Diptych” is made up of 
two canvases painted silver. He then silk screens   a photograph of Marilyn 50 times. The images 
on the left have five colors of under paint:   Pink – White – Blue and Orange. All unified on both 
sides with a final layer of black. We must remember   that it would have been easy enough for Warhol 
to make a crisp clean image, but the bleeding   of the ink, the overlapping colours, and the 
ghostly grey images are deliberate choices. Andy Warhol loved celebrities and was infatuated 
with movie stars. He grew up poverty stricken in   Pittsburgh during the depression. Obsessed 
with fame and celebrity at an early age,   he would escape by devouring movie magazines,
and writing fan letters to movie stars. At 13, he wrote to Shirley Temple and received this
signed photo – later found in his childhood scrapbook.   The pose and the colour tinting of the photo,
may well have influenced his images of Marilyn.   Later in the mid-1950s when he was a well-known shoe
illustrator, he would name his shoes after celebrities. But instead of choosing an image from 1962,
the year she died, he chose a publicity still   from ten years before. By using THIS image, he 
portrayed Marilyn at the peak of her beauty   and her youth – and the peak of her fame. Marilyn is 
forever frozen in perfect cinematic beauty. Warhol  always thought he was ugly. His insecurities
were rooted in his sickly childhood and exacerbated   by premature baldness, pockmarked skin, prominent 
nose and later, scarring from gunshot wounds.   His art examined what constituted beauty.
Marilyn diptych is not an “idealised beauty”   or perfect image. Her face doesn’t quite match 
to the gaudy colour behind it. He is questioning   the idea of perfection. Warhol understood the 
superficial nature of beauty and celebrity.   Publicity images like these are created 
by marketing companies to sell a product – a film. But in reality, say little about the 
person behind the image. The silk screen  technique has the effect of flattening
her face, both figuratively and emotionally. Marilyn Monroe, a manufactured star with a made-up
name. is reduced to a vacant facade And the artist is a machine  churning out manufactured
images. like a hollywood film studio. The repetition of the image, suggests  billboard posters or
advertising or more appropriately a photographer’s contact sheet. Repeating Marilyn, turns her face into an eerie 
inanimate death mask and if one image is powerful   then 50 dead marilyn’s are 50 times more powerful. Kennedy: “Missiles in Cuba add to an already clear and present danger” In 1962, when Warhol was painting Marilyn,
tensions were rising between the US and the Soviet Union, and the Cuban missile crisis 
would feed into warhol’s obsession with death.   Death was a subject that would haunt and fascinate 
him all his life, from his father’s premature death,   his own poor health as a child, his
shooting in 1968 – to the AIDs epidemic At the same time he  painted Marilyn, he was also starting
a series of works called “The Death and Disaster series”.   This is a group of around 70 loosely connected 
works, that included images taken from newspapers   and police reports, depicting car accidents, 
electric chairs, suicides and plane crashes.   His paintings of Marilyn Monroe ,shortly after 
her death and Jackie Kennedy, following the   assassination of President John F Kennedy,
can be seen in relation to this series. Marilyn’s death hangs over this image. On the left, her garishly 
made up face makes us think of an embalmed corpse.   While the fading images on the right, make it 
seem like she is disappearing before our eyes,   suggesting her death by suicide. The painting 
is not actually “celebrating” Monroe as an icon,   but is rather a warning of 
the fatal consequences of fame. News: “Warhol – guru of pop art has died in New York Andy Warhol shocked society more than any other artist.
But he saved his greatest shock for after his death When he died, it was revealed that, despite being
a symbol of American counter-culture,  Warhol was in fact a devout but closeted Byzantine Catholic, who went to church to pray most days, and 
kept an altar with a crucifix and a prayer book   on his bedside table. Not only was a supposedly 
cynical business-artist, a devout Catholic   but he secretly worked in New York soup kitchens.
He spent most of his life living with his mother Julia.   A Slovakian immigrant, who spoke little
English and was also a devout Catholic.   A church-going mother’s boy, did not really fit
the studio 54 party-goer image he cultivated His father died prematurely, but Julia was
possibly the greatest influence in his life. She had decorated his childhood home with her
own folk art and homemade religious icons. She not only encouraged his religious side as
a child but she also pushed his artistic side.   Despite being so poor, she bought him his first camera at nine years old, and bought him regular art supplies.   Later, she moved with him to New York, cleaned his 
apartment, cooked for him and prayed with him every   morning before he left the house. Along with 
dreams of movie stars, the young Andy Warhola’s   only other escape from poverty, was the church.
It would lead to Warhol’s two childhood passions –  religion and celebrity – being fused together for 
his first Marilyn, who he would depict as an icon,   and an object of worship. Like the Catholic 
cult of the Virgin Mary, women haunted his art.  He idolised women, who appear as remote 
superhuman beauties, martyrs even. Judy Garland, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly,
Edie Sedgwick and others were transformed into deities. His friend, Bob Colicello, would describe Warhol as 
“A religious artist for a secular society”.   As a child he attended mass at their church, 
where they would conduct the service in   old Slavonic and always started with an exorcism 
of the Devil. It is here, where he would spend hours   in front of the monumental “iconostasis,” which is 
a wall that separated the nave from the sanctuary.   It was essentially, a grid of portraits of the  saints.
The young Warhol would contemplate the   isolated figures of saints, floating on gilded 
gold, stacked repeatedly across the screen. It was HERE, that his visual language was 
formed. The highly stylised Byzantine icons,   were a huge influence on Warhol. There is the 
block colours and the flatness, the lack of depth,   but there is also the actual method of manufacture. 
Icons were often made using stencils, echoing   Warhol’s future screen printing process. Mass icon 
production, meant they were also made by a team of   anonymous artists, something he would later mimic 
with his assembly line method of production.   He often expressed the desire to be “like a machine” 
and icon painters were considered “machines of God”.   “The Marilyn Diptych” explicitly 
references a form of Christian painting –   A diptych is usually a small portable 
altarpiece on two hinged wooden panels.   Used to spread Christianity to the illiterate 
masses. With his background in advertising,  Warhol understood visuals. “I never read”
he once said “I just look at pictures”. It is no surprise then, that a contemporary artist
raised in the Catholic slavic ghettos of Pittsburgh,   would use familiar religious symbolism and
apply it to Celebrity – America’s newest “faith”. From early on in his career, Andy Warhol had an extraordinary 
ability of finding the sacred in the profane. Like so many successful Americans, he was a product of the
Eastern European immigrant experience,  who himself became an icon. A shy, gay, working-class man,
who became the court painter of the 1970s.  An artist who embraced consumerism, 
celebrity, and the counter culture, and changed   modern art in the process. He anticipated our 
fascination with brands, celebrities, even selfies.   His line about “everyone being famous for 15 
minutes” feels even more true in the 21st century.   Above all, Warhol was a chronicler of modern life. 
“Marilyn Diptych” is perhaps his greatest canvas,  bringing together celebrity, death and exposure. 
It is both a warning AND a love letter to America.   Warhol, who is often criticised as “vacuous” or 
“superficial” produced art, that is profoundly   subversive and quite simply a perfect mirror for 
our times. Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe were both   the embodiment of “the American dream”, they also 
projected a vacant persona that made sure nobody   knew the real person behind the mask. What we do 
know is that Warhol had the very rare ability to   share what he saw, with all of us. He redefined art: 
What art can be. What art can mean. Who has access to art.  Who can make art. And whose voice matters. He democratised the very notion of art making.
Video source:

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button