Lorena Ramirez ’25
The Truth of Stardom: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych
When you think of celebrities and their lives, what comes to mind? Often times, mansions, wealth, and expensive cars are first. Or, perhaps, you may think about what the star is famous for, a song or a popular movie. Sometimes the controversial actions of a star come to mind, or maybe the death of a beloved celebrity. One such example of the latter could be Marilyn Monroe: an incredibly famous movie star also known as a gorgeous sex symbol. She starred in many films and was widely acknowledged in the media, however, she committed suicide in 1962. She became not only immortalized through her career, but also through her death. A starlet previously admired for her work was suddenly seen for her struggles beyond her films.
This inspired a famous series of paintings by Andy Warhol. When creating Marilyn Diptych (1962), Warhol sought to convey the difference between how Marilyn Monroe was portrayed in the media versus her actual character. He used a plain background instead of the landscape in the original photograph that led to the painting, to both create a more intense focus on Monroe and demonstrate her isolation from the world outside of her work. Through the use of color, in particular, the contrast of exaggerated color versus black and white artistry, Warhol develops two images of Monroe. The first is unnatural. The blue eyeshadow, pink skin, red lips that seem almost brown in some of the images, and the yellow hair make Monroe seem too vibrant, therefore commenting on the facade stardom creates, as well as her status as a sex symbol, effectively hiding the person behind the bright paint. The second is void of color, and demonstrates the person Monroe was behind the excessive vibrancy, a woman who ultimately ended up committing suicide and a recluse, despite her supposedly glamorous life. Though this contrast and use of space, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych reflects on the impact of the film industry on the lives of stars. The painting suggests that celebrities, women particularly, are often portrayed as commodities and idealized to the point in which their identities outside of their fame are erased from the public eye, forcing isolation upon them.
The use of excessive color on the left images of Monroe provides insight into the glamorous depiction of her life, detailing the public display of her as a sex symbol and the bright personality a beloved celebrity should supposedly have; in contrast, Monroe’s life was lonelier. In an article from CE Noticias Financieras entitled “The Beauty of the Day: ‘Diptych Marilyn,’ by Andy Warhol,” suggests that some critics believe “the 25 paintings on the left - brightly colored - represent the celebrity’s life” (1). The extreme colors depict Monroe’s life in the spotlight, which was glamorous and that of a typical superstar, with a lot of money that brought about presumed happiness. Warhol used the bright colors to create an image of the life she was portrayed to have by the media. The same article suggests, “Warhol referred to a society in which people looked more like a product than a person and in which he represented the obsession of the media and society by some of the characters of the show” (1). This reinforces the idea that Warhol aimed to emphasize the facade the media created for Monroe as an object living a glorious life, rather than an actual person with similar issues to the members of society that did not share in her fame. The use of vivid colors depicts this idea, as they make the image of Monroe seem more fake, as that is what her portrayal through the media was. The colors reveal the “product” Monroe was seen as, a contrast against the darker aspects of her life that ultimately led to her suicide. The article continues, “Warhol further flattened portraits to reduce shadows and used vivid colors to enhance emotional simplicity and subtly reveal the actress’ surface side” (1). This further develops Warhol’s intentions for Marilyn Diptych to offer a revelation of the untold aspects of Monroe’s life. Monroe stardom and status as a sex symbol were emphasized to the point that the revelation of the truth of her life was a surprise to most. Her fame overshadowed her life outside of it, because the film industry hid it behind vibrant makeup and a fake image. Mirrored in the way Warhol used color to dramatize her, the film industry created a visual that idealized Monroe and covered up any aspects of her personality that might have contradicted her image. The fakeness of what the media focused on brings forth the idea that nobody outside of perhaps those she was close with knew who she truly was. She was forced into an isolated state in which Norma Jean, Monroe’s birth name, became a name not many would recognize today without explanation. Warhol’s use of color enhanced her image in the media as a superstar with a seemingly perfect life. The opposite, however, is established with the twenty-five images on the right.
The use of black and white on the right side of the painting displays a more sinister aspect of Monroe’s life, including her depression and suicide in spite of the vibrancy portrayed within the media. In Gary Needham’s “Publicity and pathos: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) in context,” Needham writes that the “right sided panel, another 25 Marilyns (thus 50 in total), is executed in black and white with more variation in how the ink has been printed and soaked in terms of registration and intensity: some heads appear to be bleached out with little uptake of the black acrylic paint and others are intensely dark, tenebrous and soaked with paint so as to completely obscure Marilyn’s face” (223). The right panels explore the idea that Monroe’s life was not doused in perfection, but rather was full of her personal struggles with depression. The dark ink that affects the images and thus the overall ambiance of the right panels allows for insight into the true struggles of Monroe’s life. While the more colorful images were fairly similar, this side of the work has more visible differences. This allows for a more concise reflection on the multi-faceted personality of Monroe, in spite of her public display. Warhol intended to elaborate on how her personal life was encased in a darkness similar to the one that obscures her image in the right panels. There was more to Monroe than the media portrayed. Celebrities are either portrayed as perfect or their images are decimated if they seem anything less than such. Needham goes on to say, “If anything, superficiality is not in the work itself but in the commentary it articulates as Warhol asks us to consider the ways in which Hollywood was able to ‘construct’ Marilyn Monroe (the left panel), illuminate her stardom, and erase the ‘Norma Jean’ (the right panel), to be overcome with a darkness like that of the black paint that soaks up her radiance to the point of obliteration” (223). Needham comments on how Warhol’s diverse use of color brought forth consideration on how her career, and Hollywood, drained her life outside of it. The contrast between both sides of the art piece presents the idea that Monroe’s fame overtook her, and that her own authentic identity was overshadowed. While Warhol’s utilization of color allowed for a different portrayal of Monroe’s life to be presented, his usage of space accomplished the same.
In Marilyn Diptych, the background is completely orange in the left images and white in the right images to articulate Monroe’s more isolated lifestyle. Rather than using the landscape from the original images of which this screen-printed work was made, Warhol chose to surround Monroe with empty space. In a New York Times article, “Marilyn Monroe Dead, Pills Near: Star’s Body Is Found in Bedroom of Her Home on Coast Police Say She Left No Notes,” published shortly after Monroe’s death, the author wrote that “Miss Monroe wound up as a virtual recluse,” and “Hardly any of her neighbors had seen her more than once or twice in the six months since she had moved into her two-bedroom bungalow” (13). Despite her stardom, Monroe ended up closing herself off outside of her work-life. Celebrity lifestyles are often idealized in the media, and so Monroe was predominantly viewed as living a luxurious lifestyle, however, the article discloses aspects of Monroe’s personal life that were not considered common knowledge. This includes the simplicity of her room layout, with only a bed as well as a dressing table and a night table, and her bungalow that was considered modest for a star of her caliber. Warhol’s use of space in Marilyn Diptych takes this revelation of Monroe’s life as one of the focal ideas in the work. Empty space is associated with the absence of company and isolation. By forgoing the original surroundings of Monroe, Warhol not only draws the viewer’s eyes to Monroe but also comments on her separation from the rest of the world. This reflects on both her ‘reclusive’ nature and the distance between the two versions of her constructed by her media presence. Though the purpose of Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych was to convey the two sides to Monroe and how Hollywood tainted her, other motivations can be argued.
It could be argued that an opposing inspiration for the Marilyn Diptych was to depict a saint-like version of Monroe to comment on the general idolization of celebrities, similar to a form of religious worship. According to Holland Carter’s New York Times article, “Warhol Lives. Warhol Lives. Warhol Lives,” Warhol was known for using religious imagery in many of his works and “drew on the visual language of the church art of his youth to transform a photographic portrait of Marilyn Monroe, who had taken her own life that year, into a gilded icon of a martyr-saint” (2). While this refers to a different art piece of Warhol’s, as he used Monroe as a focus a multitude of times, it demonstrates artistic motivation drawn from his religious upbringing. This leaves room for the suggestion that the reasoning for Marilyn Diptych was the same, however, the extent to which the colors are saturated combined with the juxtaposition of colorful images with black and white ones opposes this belief. Gary Needham writes in “Publicity and pathos: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) in context,” “One should argue that, far from being a work of glamour, Marilyn Diptych instead deals with the private life of Monroe as it is achingly written into the painting’s narrative and obvious juxtaposition of the colour and tone of the two very different panels”
Marilyn Diptych comments on Monroe’s personal journey as opposed to who she was to spectators to her success. There is less to be said on any religious connections that can be made to the art piece. The color in Marilyn Diptych makes Monroe seem less idealistic and ethereal, as some of Warhol’s other works did, but rather more exaggerated and fake, to emphasize the façade the media forced onto her. The choice to have half of the work be in bright colors and the other half be in black and white also commented more on her life rather than the martyrdom of a saint. The movement from color to black and white portrays stardom erasing Norma Jean to construct Marilyn Monroe. While there may have been some religious inspiration associated with Marilyn Diptych, the predominant purpose was to reinforce Hollywood’s impact on Monroe and how her fame ultimately drained the ‘color’ from her life.
Marilyn Diptych was an art piece and commentary on Monroe’s personal life, stardom, and death. Monroe’s stardom ultimately caused her true self to be forgone, and this is demonstrated both through the use of color as well as space in Warhol’s silkscreen piece. Although one of Warhol’s primary methods in his creation of art was drawing from the religious imagery of his youth, Marilyn Diptych’s primary purpose was to establish the contrast between who Monroe was in the media and her personal struggles that led to her suicide. Monroe’s life was seen as glamorous due to her fame, however, she was depressed and suffering behind the mask Hollywood crafted for her. Often times, the image of superstars seen by society causes their personalities outside of it to be erased and their true struggles to be hidden in wake of the creation of them conveyed by the media.
Cotter, Holland. “Warhol Lives. Warhol Lives. Warhol Lives.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 2018, p. C13–.
Translated by ContentEngine LLC. “The Beauty of the Day: ‘Diptych Marilyn,’ by Andy Warhol.” CE Noticias Financieras, English ed., ContentEngine LLC, a Florida limited liability company, 2020.
Needham, Gary. “Publicity and Pathos: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) in Context.” Film, Fashion & Consumption, vol. 4, no. 2, Intellect, 2015, pp. 221–25, https://doi.org/10.1386/ffc.4.2-3.221_1.
“Marilyn Monroe Dead, Pills Near: Star’s Body is found in Bedroom of Her Home on Coast Police Say She Left no Notes–Official Verdict Delayed MARILYN MONROE DEAD, PILLS NEAR.” New York Times (1923-), Aug 06 1962, p. 1. ProQuest. Web. 7 Apr. 2022.
Warhol, Andy, 1928-. Marilyn Monroe Diptych. 1962. Artstor, library.artstor.org/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822001021656