From Banksy to Sir Peter Blake, artists have long held a fascination with famous faces. Read on for some of our favourite renderings of the stars…
Kate Moss, London, 2006 by Mario Testino.
She is everyone’s favourite supermodel so it follows that Kate Moss has played artist’s muse to a host of painters – from Lucian Freud (who painted her during evening sittings that stretched over nine months and, according to Moss, wouldn’t tolerate lateness) to Pop Art’s darling Sir Peter Blake, who has portrayed her many times and once created an outsized close-up of her mouth from a Nick Knight Vogue cover shoot. Katherine Bernhardt (who launched her career by painting the supermodels she tore from fashion magazines) titled her first exhibition Kate, Gisele, Natalia, Agyness, Kanye and George, rendering them all in dripping paint and stretched features to unsettling effect (the latest celebrity to be immortalised by Bernhardt is civil rights activist and former American football player Colin Kaepernick; see below.)
Marc Quinn, meanwhile, created a series of sculptures of Moss in near-impossible yoga positions posed by someone else. The artist was motivated by the paradox between the ubiquity of Moss’s image and her refusal to do interviews, which led to an almost total lack of public voice: “She is the reflection of ourselves…a mirror, a mystery, a sphinx,” he said in a catalogue for the Groninger Museum in 2006. Last but not least, another artist who famously captured Moss isn’t often associated with celebrity culture: in 2006, Banksy created a technicolor screen print of the model with Marilyn Monroe’s hair, in homage of Andy Warhol’s work featuring the film star. Only 50 prints were made of the edition, which is now highly sought after. The artist subsequently struck up a friendship with Moss, and rumour has it that he even painted a mural of her friends and family in her bathroom while she was away on honeymoon.
Kate Moss editions in various colour ways by Banksy, 2006.
Warhol made his famous silkscreen painting Marilyn Diptych, in 1962, just after the actress died from a probable barbiturate overdose (the piece is now in the Tate’s permanent collection). Using a publicity shot from the 1953 film Niagara, Warhol created two silkscreen prints of multiple images of the photo and placed them together: in doing so, he echoed the traditional diptych formation most commonly seen on altarpieces, drawing early parallels between celebrity worship and religion. Repeating an image is a common trope of Warhol’s work: the artist uses it in other pieces to desensitise the viewer to shocking scenes including car crashes and the electric chair. By using multiple photos of Marilyn here, it’s possible that he wanted to strip away the glamour and humanise a woman who had been rendered almost unreal.
Warhol isn’t the only artist to immortalise Monroe: Sir Peter Blake has created many images featuring the actress (you can see one that we have for sale here), once explaining “if you’re going to paint a beautiful blonde woman, you choose Marilyn”. Contrary to this bit of advice, British artist Maria Rivans has barely documented the pin-up, despite being well known for her images of classic Hollywood actresses with dreamscape headdresses. Other starlets including Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn feature prominently in her work, but Marilyn only makes it into one piece – descending into a swimming pool as her head is attacked by a tentacled beast.
In 2015, American artist Kehinde Wiley was commissioned to create a limited edition set of bronze busts of Kanye West (although no record exists of who did the commissioning). Well known for placing black men into art forms from which they have been excluded through the centuries – notably oil portraits – Wiley represented West using a bronze bust (traditionally used to confer wealth and status). The sculptural edition (of which three were made, alongside two artists proofs) is life-size. Much more controversial is the work by artist George Condo which features on West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Condo created five paintings for the album’s artwork, three of which feature Kanye himself: one of these (which appears to show West being ridden by a half-she-devil/ half-Pegasus) was banned by Wal-Mart and the iTunes store. Interestingly, Condo, who once worked at Warhol’s Factory putting diamond dust on his works, has since become one of America’s most in-demand artists thanks to his incredibly limited output and popularity with prominent collectors.
Kanye West by Kehinde Wiley, 2015
Stephen Friedman Gallery
Sir Peter Blake loves the idea of taking a famous face and using it as a shortcut to an idea: he uses Kate Moss and Marilyn Monroe as depictions of archetypal female beauty but, with Elvis, Blake is zoning in on the idea of a rock icon. The artist has returned repeatedly to America’s favourite songstrel, incongruously placing his photo among digital collages of butterflies and monuments, or creating blockey shapes around the singer which seem to highlight his icon status. Elvis even snuck into one of Blake’s most famous works, ‘Self-portrait with Badges’, which depicts the artist in his youth, back in 1961 (in the work, Blake can be seen clasping a magazine which features Elvis on the cover). In 2016, Blake created a shrine to Elvis for an exhibition, featuring portraits, busts and memorabilia.
He isn’t the only pop artist to have a fascination with the star: Warhol frequently featured Elvis in his screen prints – his was the only entire celebrity body to feature in Warhol’s pictures (others, like Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor, were cropped at the head). Another artist whose work often features The King is David Scheinmann. Playing with the idea of Elvis as a macho American icon, Scheinmann often subverts the status quo – adding pink Playboy bunny or Mickey Mouse ears or Marilyn Monroe hair. The effect is tongue in cheek but disconcerting, heightening Elvis’s commodification by using female or juvenile tropes that make it easier to see the links to exploitation.
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