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Mao Marilyn

by Lucy Quinn, 28 November 2012

Untitled (Mao Marilyn), 2005 by Yu Youhan
Untitled (Mao Marilyn), 2005 by Yu Youhan

Warhol made his series of iconic image of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, the month that she committed suicide. Screen printing allowed Warhol to break down photographic images into simple elements and the immediacy of the process allowed for experimentation in colour.

En masse the series of 10 prints by Warhol are dramatic, some have jarring and others more harmonious colour combinations that exaggerate the actor’s facial features and iconic appearance. Originally working as a commercial artist Warhol became a master of pop art exploiting the mundane, every day and celebrity. He piggybacked his artistic practice on the fame and appeal of his subjects. Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Elvis and Eliza Minnelli are other C20th icons reproduced by him as screen-prints. As Warhol was an art celebrity himself, being ‘Warhol-ed’ could have been desirable to celebrities.

In 1972 Warhol explored a new icon, Chairman Mao Zedong, coinciding with growing western interest in China and President Nixon’s visit (Gough Whitlam visited China with a Labour delegation a month before Nixon). Like Marilyn, Mao’s appeal to Warhol would have been in the  and visibility of the subject. A set of 10 Mao Tse-tung 1972 screen prints can be found in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. They are quite a contrast to the original official photograph of the leader.

Yu Youhan a chinese artist of the avante guarde movement which developed after the end of the Cultural Revolution. He became dissolutioned with abstraction and was affected by contemporary ideas that dealth with ’how to move society forwards.’ After working in abstraction for almost a decade, Youhan moved into western-styled pop art. He saw images of Andy Warhol’s works and other pop artists in books, ‘Once I saw pop art I felt great! you could put anything in it’. Check out this interview for more of Youhan’s reflections about the avante guarde movement.

Youhan’s ’Untitled (Mao Marilyn)’ 2005 work appropriates and combines Warhol’s ‘Mao’ and ‘Marilyn’ works, to create an androgynous icon that is recognisably both Mao and Marilyn.  Youhan has painted the work mimicking the suggestion of ‘painterly’ brush strokes that are simulated in Warhol’s screen print. Viewing Yuohan’s work is a reflexive experience, as it moves further away from photography and commercial processes back towards the handmade, opposite to Warhol’s original screen prints which combined commercial techniques and photography.

Youhan’s work has a psychological edge to it. It is difficult to detach Youhan’s work from political meaning and global influence, with in the contemporary Chinese art movement Youhan is considered as a ‘political pop’ artist.

To have a go manipulating the colours in Warhol’s Marilyn visit the Color Vision & Art virtual exhibit online.