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Fine art and fame: the art of celebrity culture

What do we find so fascinating about celebrities? Do we yearn for their social status? Admire the glamour and flash of paparazzi lights, or respect their cultural significance? Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure – celebrity culture is here to stay.
Artists are an integral part of the pop culture landscape. They are deeply embedded in (and sometimes add to) our interest in famous figures. From the slick screen prints of Andy Warhol to Keith Haring’s revolutionary street art and Jeff Koons’ glimmering sculptures, some of our most celebrated creative figures have explored the concept of celebrity.

Today, we’re shining a light on artists dealing with society and stardom. Whether it’s exploring the darker sides of fame, honouring national treasures or childhood idols – the art of celebrity culture offers a fascinating insight into modern life.

Patterns of patronage

Patronage initially seems an odd word to apply to the contemporary art world. It’s a term that conjures-up images of renaissance families like the Medici; individual patrons wielding unfathomable power to support (or exclude) aspiring artists and architects.

More recently however, wealthy socialites (for instance the renowned Peggy Guggenheim) continue to support entire institutions and launch artistic careers.

Despite this, patronage is now no longer in the hands of an exclusive few. With the rise of social media, crypto-currencies and NFTs – the art world has expanded.

Celebrities themselves (with their massive social media followings) can be just as, if not more influential than traditional “art world elites”.

Indeed, artists such as Paul Oz have found huge success with celebrity collectors including the racing driver Jenson Button, football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, the cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and musical stars such as Wretch 32 and Bruno Mars.

The celebrity artist

As the interplay between art and celebrity culture becomes ever more complex – artists have become celebrities in their own right. From the “bad boy” of British art Damien Hirst, to the ongoing controversy about street art's most famous and most mysterious artist, Banksy, the relationship between these two groups continues to develop.

Whilst it’s possible to identify the roots of “celebrity artists” in the massive outpouring of public grief at the death of renaissance master Raphael, or even the high-society status of artists such as Joshua Reynolds and the French avant-garde impressionists – one man truly brought this to the fore. This was the great Pop Artist, Andy Warhol

In a prescient statement, Warhol claimed that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”. The artist himself became one of the twentieth century’s most famous faces. Socialising with Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Bob Dylan, his creative studio (known as The Factory) was a hub of the 1960s New York celebrity scene.

This was around the time that televisions became commonplace in American and European homes. The general public, able to view their favourite actors, athletes and musicians for the first time, became captivated with images of fame, glamour and success…

Famous faces in fine art

With a brief background into changing patterns of patronage and our growing fascination with celebrity stardom – it’s time to take a look at some of the famous faces depicted by contemporary artists.

To begin, who could be more iconic than Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe?

Marilyn Monroe

As Pop Artists seized on the burgeoning culture of celebrity worship, one figure stood out. Marilyn Monroe particularly fascinated Andy Warhol, who reproduced her likeness throughout the 1960s. By repeating and juxtaposing everyday pop cultural images, Warhol mirrored and critiqued our growing media saturation.



This appropriation, sampling and remixing of elements has also influenced contemporary artists. The London-based, Hungarian-born artist Zee layers multiple references in Blonde Bombshell. Old newspaper articles reporting Monroe’s suicide are contrasted with comic-book heroes, scrawled graffiti, corporate logos, and Monroe’s face. It all builds towards the sometimes nightmarish reality of today’s modern media age.



Artists such as JJ Adams have also used Marilyn’s immediately recognisable face to comment on our social media age. In the subtly altered Monroe Selfie, she gazes back at the “smartphone selfie” as we, in turn, stare at her.

Madonna

From Monroe to Madonna, we’re sticking with female cultural icons. Madonna was part of the Warhol celebrity crowd during the 1980s, partying with artists and intellectuals in the heart of New York.

She even dated Jean-Michel Basquiat (the pioneering graffiti artist), embarking on a fiery love affair. Whilst the relationship ended with Basquiat burning all the artwork he’d created for her – Madonna has continued to fascinate artists to this day.



Craig Davison’s nostalgic Get into the Groove captures the childlike obsession so many of us have with pop-star idols. In this painting, a colourfully dressed child (complete with swirling skirt, jangling bangles and a bright-blue bow) sings spiritedly into her hairbrush. Madonna herself appears in the background; the dream-like creation of an admiring young fan.



In a less family-friendly manner, JJ Adam’s monochrome Lucky Star presents the star at her provocative, attention-grabbing best. Set against newspaper headlines, she holds one pixelated finger up to the viewer – raising interesting questions about the complicated nature of celebrity voyeurism.

Queen Elizabeth II
 
Last but not least in this introduction to famous faces in fine art – we’ve discussed the Queen of Pop, so we couldn’t fail to mention the Queen herself! Queen Elizabeth II is certainly one of the most recognisable people in the world. Artistic depictions of royalty and nobility have enjoyed a long history. Royal patronage launched the career of Tudor painters such as Hans Holbein, as well as supporting recent photographers such as David Bailey.



Known for his candid celebrity photography, David Bailey produced a highly unusual image of Her Majesty. In this photograph, we get a rare glimpse of the Queen looking directly into the camera, dazzling in azure blue and smiling – almost chuckling.

Elizabeth II has of course inspired countless other contemporary artists. To give just one example, Paul Oz put his own dynamic spin on royal iconography during the coronavirus pandemic with Corona-tion Queen. In this artwork, the Queen (seen in profile, in the colours of the Union Jack) wears a face-mask reminiscent of NHS caregivers.



Paul Oz has in fact depicted the Queen on multiple occasions throughout his career, most recently in the portraits Ma’am and Queen of Jack II (both released in 2021).

Whether it’s movie stars, musicians or her majesty, celebrity culture is certainly here to stay. Explore the Artmarket Gallery’s unique collection of celebrity art and find artworks that truly enrich your life.