In my 22 year career as a commissioned “artist for hire” I’ve learned to truly understand the desire of my clientele for paintings of “Pop Culture Icons”. Legally bound not to print copies of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe without paying hefty commissions, I’ve had to paint certain famous and recognizable images over and over again. An image of Jack Nicholson smiling with his trademark grin has garnered over 10 sales of originals, many being used for charity and raising over 10k to date for various charities including my #1 charity www.maxloveproject.org (a children’s cancer foundation dedicated to raising awareness for alternative healing therapies for young cancer patients). Over 50 of my originals of various images of Marilyn Monroe have raised over 25k for many charities including American Cancer Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization. In 2012 a signed portrait of Kobe Bryant sold for 6k at a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Fame and Iconography in Pop Art means dollar signs and sales.
So, why are we so obsessed with the idea of fame, and why does this translate into our art purchases? In our world fame creates iconography. This isn’t just limited to the world of celebrity, in fact, among the most famous names searched on google is Jesus, followed by Napoleon and Shakespeare. According to a variety of sources within my google search on this subject more often than not, Marilyn Monroe was the only woman included within the top ten famous Icons in American Culture. James Dean, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley and Buddha appeared in the top ten in many lists. How interesting to find that a woman considered a sexual being, a seducer, an innocent, a lush, and an adulterer, finds her place among historical titans such as Jesus, MLK and Buddha known and loved for their character, empathy and benefit to humanity.
Over the years I’ve offered a free signed Jesus Print to anyone who has wanted one. I posted my offer on Facebook, and received messages from 20 to 30 people per post. Was it the idea of receiving a free piece of art or the love of this religious icon that had me sending out masses of prints since 2011? No one has ever asked me to repaint the Jesus image, but nearly every single time I post the Jack Nicholson painting I receive a request for an original (in fact my most recent painting of Jack, #10 will finally be seen and signed by the Icon of film culture himself).
How is that possible that I was never asked to repaint Jesus, the most famous Icon of all time…. Do our tastes change? One day will I be asked to paint Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber? Guess what, I’ll have to decline. Thank goodness we have some class left in our culture. I hope the movie Idiocracy never comes to be the reality of our times, where we are each and everyone of us made into icons of culture and plastered with advertising all over our clothing.
Perhaps we should be grateful to have Pop Culture Icons. We are given inspiration, drive, desire, ambition, to emulate those who have made such an impression upon the masses who came before us and therefore inspire us today. But are we all just lemmings following the masses? And who will become the icons of future times…. will the religious and historical Icons hold their place in time, or will new celebrity such as Superman, Tom Cruise and Oprah take over, as suggested by one list of the top 200 Icons of our times. Can you imagine a future society where we actually embrace intellect and accomplishment rather than perceived fame and power? Many have asked me to paint Einstein or Tesla, but no one has ever commissioned me to do so as they’ve commissioned the endless Jacks and Marilyns. We can only hope for the future societies to maintain some degree of sophistication. Only time will tell, and I’m sure I’ll be painting the icons as they change for years to come.
How does the future look for pop art? Can you imagine landing on the planet in 2314 and seeing a Marilyn Monroe Pop Art painting on the wall. Perhaps only in a museum dedicated to the distant past, or perhaps she will still be gracing our walls, even if the homes are so contemporary they feature only holographic art by then. 🙂
Here are my some of 10 paintings of Jack, 50 paintings Marilyn and the only Jesus I’ve ever painted, the print of which graces over 500 homes. See more of my art at www.mayagallery.com, and look for my column each month here at Home & Realty Magazine.