As Warhol said, will we all be world-famous for 15 minutes? We are obsessed with celebrity – from Kim Kardashian, to Barack Obama, David Beckham to Caitlyn Jenner. This new elite dominates the popular imagination and their images fill our tabloid press, and are creeping into the worlds of street art, and ‘high’ art. But would there be such a thing without artists? Who would create these powerful portraits? Who would nurture these distinctive ‘looks’?
Do powerful world leaders really need artists to help to cultivate their image? Do artists have the upper hand? There’s clearly a complex crossover here between art and celebrity.
Think of the skill of photographers such as Eve Arnold, David Bailey, Mario Testino and David Lachapelle. Their eye has elevated movie stars and singers to the status of ‘icons’, revealing and concealing their ‘true selves’.
It’s a two-part process: the celebrities are singled out for their unusual appearance, dramatic lifestyle—or both. The artist captures them artfully poised with a new hair colour, style of clothing or quirky pose. Some of the results haunt our popular vision: Marilyn in her white dress, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, James Dean in his white t-shirt.
Graphic artists, such as Warhol, Banksy and Shepard Fairey use famous faces as a common currency as do popular artists Simon Claridge (his celebrity portraits sprinkled with Diamond Dust continue to be highly sought after – instantly recognisable emblems akin to the Christian iconography of the Middle Ages. We know the lives of our celebrities as much as people once knew the lives of saints – their sufferings and transformations amaze us. Are these the real performance artists of today?
We are all supposed to look good, and with Instagram and Facebook broadcast our own image. Indeed, one of the most interesting places for art right now is on Instragram: see Richard Prince’s Instagram paintings that made waves at the recent Frieze art fair in New York.
But who’s the most famous here? Celebrities who make art or artists who make celebrities? Read our next post to find out more.