Warhol and Marilyn Monroe

by Franklin Hill Perrell

It is well known that Warhol used a cropped Hollywood publicity photo of his subject from the movie, Niagara. A silkscreen stencil was made from the black and white image permitting the artist to reproduce the gradations of tone from the source photo in black ink.

Warhol introduced color as well, for the multiple Marilyns on the left panel. Visual analysis affirms that the handpainted color was applied before the final photo-derived silkscreen image. Evident brushwork appears in the yellow hair, and in certain of the other component images it is possible to see the pink pigment of the skin peeking through the green eye shadow and red lips. There are irregularities throughout, with considerable variety in the mostly flat paint handling along with an occasional drip.

The color was done first, and the black ink overlaid. This involved planning the locations of each area with some degree of care, a process of considerable difficulty noting that it had to be redone twenty-five times to produce a full grid of Marilyns which (on each respective panel) are five across and five down. It has been said that Warhol initially printed the photo silkscreen very lightly for each zone, only to serve as a template for the color, which would be handpainted. A second imprint from the silkscreen stencil, much darker, followed the color painting for each area.

For the black and white side, it is very easy to observe the wide degree of variation in the making for each image. Normally, for each fresh printing, ink is washed off the screen and a clean image is thus enabled. Here, we are thinking that the artist may have deliberately not cleaned the screen or not done so thoroughly, to produce these seemingly chance variations of light and dark. Through repetition with such variety, Warhol (who claimed to aspire becoming a machine) introduced expressive evidence of what may be regarded equivalent to “the artist’s hand” in traditional art.

According to Fiorano Vecchi (as told by Scherman and Dalton in their book, Pop), who taught Warhol silkscreen painting, “He wanted bad technique…The smears and blurs weren’t intentional at all. It just came out like that and he said, “oh, that’s interesting…oh I love it that way. Let’s leave it.”

This work was done shortly after the actress’ death, and though Monroe and Warhol never each other, both were regular customers of the restaurant, Serendipity.

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