Undoubtedly Warhol’s most famous silkscreen is that of the actress Marilyn Monroe, the unabashed American sex symbol of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, Warhol began silkscreening his series of celebrity paintings which included the ubiquitious Marilyn Monroe. This image, to Warhol’s delight, eventually became even more iconic than the film still from which it was derived. In his first silkscreens of the star, Warhol applied different flat and exaggerated colors to parts of her face and background. These colors varied from picture to picture and even from celebrity to celebrity, but celebrity was more than a subject for Warhol’s work, it was an elemental aspect of its identity. The original Warhol silkscreened version of the photograph of Marilyn just before her death shows Warhol’s ingenuity as he transformed a realistic image into an iconic symbol of Pop Art. Warhol understood the mechanism of celebrity at a very early point in the development of mega celebrities in America and he utilized Marilyn’s image to embody the fame and the glamour of celebrity that Warhol sought himself to establish in his artistic career. The brilliance of the Reversal series lies in Warhol’s ability to take the prototype he had created in his original silkscreens and re-legitimize his artistic conceptual purpose by repeating his own imagery.
Tonally reversed and imitating the appearance of a photographic negative, in One Pink/Black Marilyn from his Reversal Series 1979-1986, Warhol employs his classic method of using acrylic paint and silkscreen ink on a canvas with a deliberate self-awareness. Warhol’s reversal image of Marilyn, however, stands symbolically and visually apart from his original depictions in bright primary colors. One Pink/Black Marilyn, composed with a bright, fluorescent, and processed pink contrasted against the matte, stark black is an enchanting example of the artist’s self-realization of just how processed and recycled his own images had become. Within this realization, he still manages to find a freshness and conceptual originality in the series by re-using his existing “iconographic universe” (Germano Celant, Super Warhol, New York, 2003, p. 10). As renowned art historian, critic and curator Germano Celant writes in reference to the Reversals, “He constructed the décor of himself and, to renew its appearance, he only needed to cast a mirror-image of it (a reversal)... Such reflections on his own methods, through mirrored and negative images, made intelligible the self-affirmation of an artistic language.” (Ibid., p. 10)
Even in the late 1970s, Warhol found a way to appropriate the already appropriated and re-process the processed by using negative printing. Through this method, he transcends the celebrity he depicts and instead conceptualizes the image into a memory, almost a phantom. By combining a recognizable image with the technique of reversal and with reference to his own artistic past, he created an important work that opens an inquiry into static ideas of artistic expression and innovation. In this negatively appropriated and self-referential image of Marilyn, Warhol has reached a pinnacle of conceptualism in his work.
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