Warhol made more than 50 silkscreen paintings of her, called ‘Marilyn Diptych’, all based on the same publicity photograph from the 1953 film Niagara.
Ideas and meaning
Warhol toke the subject of his painting from an impersonal image, a photograph made for mass reproduction. The mistakes in the silkscreen represented her mortality, that no one was perfect. “You get the same image, slightly different each time. [The technique] was all so simple quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it.” Warhol has also created stark juxtaposition between the two sides of the diptych, and the effect of fading in the right panel are suggestive of the star’s mortality, reflecting the variance between life and death. He once noted that through repeated exposure to an image, viewers become de-sensitized to it. In that case, by repeating Monroe’s public mask-like face, he has not only drained away her life, but deadening our emotional response to her death.
The silkscreen process allowed Warhol to reproduce the same image over and over again, using multiple colours. There are differences from one face to the next, accidental by-products of the silkscreen process, rather than the product of the artist’s judgment. “I copy because it is easier”. His move from painting to prints – block colours and no brush strokes, prompted comments such as ‘flat, killing art, blasphemy, anti-art’. Warhol used many assistants at The Factory, especially for his larger screen-printed images, to hold the large frames or help him print image multiple times.
He was the greatest philosopher of stardom, and wanted to be famous himself – had a life-long fascination with Hollywood. Throughout the 1970s, Warhol frequently socialized with celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Truman Capote, both of whom had been important early subjects in his art. He started to receive dozens-and soon hundreds-of commissions for painted portraits from wealthy socialites, music and film stars, and other clients.
Warhol created Monroe to be a complication of two of his consistent themes: death and the cult life of celebrity. He took images from stills, magazines and newspapers, and recreated them to represent celebrities as commodities.
Historical and/or cultural context
Marilyn Monroe committed suicide at age 36 in August of 1962, and caused worldwide controversy over the Hollywood actress’s drug overdose. Warhol has plucked Munroe from popular culture and immortalized her abundant and constant media presence as art by repeating the image over 50 times. Warhol is attributed to reimagining and defining ‘pop art’ with his incredibly unique works, which caused people to look twice at ordinary objects, events and not so ordinary people, and to contemplate and alternate meaning to the superficial and obvious.
Artist’s style/aesthetic qualities
The art has been produced at a monumental scale (1.8 x 2.9 m), which along the seemingly careless handling of the paint and the even distribution of form and colour across each half of the canvas demands the reader’s attention. Made from two silver canvases on which the artist silkscreened the photograph, one side in vivid primary colours, the other in black and white. The dark black smear of one column of portraits perhaps symbolises the smearing of Marilyn’s reputation once the origins of her death came out to the media. The black and white images on the right of the canvas represent the stark, black and white reality of a celebrity; despite their status, they were everyday people. The black and white silk screens gradually fade to almost nothing, symbolising Munroe’s mortality.