This screenprint is based on a publicity photograph of Marilyn Monroe (1926-62) from the 1953 film ‘Niagara’. It is an unauthorised print produced by the Belgian collective Sunday B. Morning, in 1970, after an original by Andy Warhol. Warhol produced his original set of ten screenprints, referred to as the ‘Factory Editions’, in 1967, five years after the iconic actress’s death. Sunday B. Morning were supposedly given the original photo-negatives and colour codes needed to produce the prints by Warhol himself. However, when Warhol changed his mind, he tried – but failed – to stop their production. When he subsequently came across one, he signed it ‘This is Not By Me. Andy Warhol’, to ‘negate’ them. The Walker’s print is unsigned.
Warhol produced many different prints of Monroe all based on the same publicity shot. His fascination with the actress was based on her status as both an iconic celebrity and as a camp figure who had fallen somewhat out of fashion by the time of her death. Marilyn is sometimes held up as the ultimate gay icon since she was simultaneously a glamorous pop culture style idol and a martyr figure. The tragic nature of her life and death appealed to the fascination that gay communities have with martyred figures such as Saint Sebastian.
Unlike other famous gay American artists, Warhol refused to stay ‘in the closet’. He used his work to reference, comment and play with the dominant images of gay and queer culture. As well as becoming one of the most renowned and popular artists of his generation, Warhol is credited as being a principle figure in the development of alternative music scenes and fashion styles. At his ‘Factory’ in New York, Warhol kickstarted a whole new subculture by bringing together young alternative artists and musicians with his queer ‘superstars’. The unique fusion of glamorous and trashy fashion sported by superstars such as the transsexual actress Candi Darling, and drag queen Jackie Curtis, was adopted by glitter rock bands such as the New York Dolls and the crowds at venues like CBGB’s. This was the scene that evolved into punk.
Often described as a contemporary dandy, Warhol also cultivated his own unique queer style, which pushed the idea of the public persona to the extreme. He famously lived his life as a carefully constructed image, leaving parties as soon as he had been photographed at them. His unabashed and deadpan celebration of the artificial, the superficial and the flamboyant has become a hallmark of some types of queer style.