Friday, January 15, 2010

Elvis: An American Icon

Long before the celeb culture of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, there was Elvis. A boy from Mississippi, Elvis Presley, who would have turned 75 last week, remains forever etched in our minds as the quintessential American pop icon. With talent and good looks, Graceland's demi-god became a symbol of mid-century American prosperity, much like Coca-Cola and Campbell's soup cans. Ray Johnson was the first to make him the subject of a pop painting in 1956, well before Andy Warhol's silkscreened images in the 1960's. Johnson's image foretold the tragic hero Elvis would eventally become, entitling his collage, Oedipus Elvis. It amazes me that Johnson would have the insight paint this rising epic icon and the hubris which would eventually destroy him.
Warhol's depictions are far more straightforward-- his traditional photosilkscreens manufacturing images of Elvis in his studio aptly called The Factory. In this diptych, Elvis is taking aim at his viewer, and yet slowly fading out across the canvas.
More recently collage artist Louise Millmann shrank Elvis, reducing him to a postage stamp and a kiss.
On the homefront, our Canned Ham magnet, courtesy of Tom Judson, has had a recent makeover; it's been Elvis-ified.

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