a few months ago, some friends of mine brought me a little maquette of marilyn monroe. a local artist had made it for them, but obviously he was not aware of the iconography of the image, and he had subsequently left the country. they asked me if i could do something with it, and so i took the project on.
first i had to take off as much of the garish paint as possible, and i tried to do as much as i could with the dress and the way it billowed up– even though i liked the way the artist had postured the body, the physics of the dress had also escaped him somewhat. this got me into the world of papier mache’ sculpture, which i spent quite a while researching. “it ain’t yer parents’ papier mache’ anymore, dorothy”!! i couldn’t believe how much things had changed, and how much innovation had evolved in the making of this seemingly simple compound.i decided to work with what they called “papier mache’ clay”, which was not clay at all, but rather a combination of cheap toilet paper, white glue, joint compound and mineral oil.
you basically mix the stuff up together using a basic mixer. my first batch was a little coarse for what i had anticipated, but it did yeoman service on the dress, giving it a nice light cloth-like texture and imparting a sense of movement to it. i filled in some trenches in the breast areas as well.
however, for the face and bum i made a separate smoother mix, filling out her jaw area and forehead (she’d sorta looked like a mongolian mexican marilyn til then) and amplifying her til then somewhat nonexistent glutes. luckily enough the “clay” kept well for a couple of days, and i made several applications, learning a little more about how it worked every time. after all this plastic surgery was completed i gave it about four good coats of flat white paint, to cover up all the rest of the colors, which were distracting in themselves.
now i had a figure that, in the words of bernini “looks as if it has been dipped in a sack of flour”– somewhat without personality. and so the painting commenced. my first attempt at the skin was just too CORAL!!!– it reminded me of a set of cupboards i had when i last lived in canada. so i toned it down. the dress was a problem, but in the end highlighting it with titanium white and brushing iridescent white into the curves gave it great grace and movement. the hair was not easy– what color IS platinum blonde, anyhow? i messed around with and got something fine.
but by far the most difficult thing to do were the eyes– despite all my modelling work, the topography was not always conducive to portraying them, and many was the time i had to curse and grind my teeth, paint everything out and then go back and try to get it right the next time.. i must have spent two days trying to get it to all work together. and then the next morning i just couldn’t leave it alone– i had to do “one more pass”!!
don’t get me wrong, i don’t think this to be a perfect marilyn, but rather one that has some of the spirit of the iconic image that most of us have grown up with. tom ewell may not have aged well, but marilyn certainly has. interestingly enough, i took the time to watch “the seven year itch” recently, and i was quite amazed at how little footage of marilyn on that subway grate there was. somehow i think the image i have in my mind was a longer video, done to promote the film, or perhaps it was at the film opening. i know i have seen more than i saw in that film!!
THE END p.s.– happy mexican independence day everybody!!