Executed in 1984, Michael Jackson is one of a small group of portraits of the eponymous singer created by Andy Warhol, one of which was subsequently used as a cover for Time magazine and is now in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The star smiles from the picture surface, already well on his way to the global success that he already enjoyed and which would result in his moniker, the King of Pop. This is one artist's celebration of another; indeed, Jackson, who also featured on the cover of Warhol's own Interview magazine, was the perfect subject for the artist, part of the pantheon of popular culture of his day, and indeed an enduring figure, a musical legend within his own lifetime. It is a tribute to both Jackson and Warhol alike that they retain such an incredible hold on the public's imaginations, not least after the tragic and untimely death of the singer earlier this year. Happily oblivious to the trials that the star would come to face, Michael Jackson looks out of this picture with an expression that ensures that this image is filled with an optimism which is arguably rare in Warhol's work.
Warhol came to know Jackson gradually over the years. When they met in 1977, Warhol was amused by the fact that Jackson seemed not to know who he was, but the pair became increasingly acquainted. When he saw Jackson in concert in 1981, he adored the spectacle, commenting, "Michael's show was maybe the best I've seen. He's such a good dancer, and he goes into a hole and comes out the other side in a different outfit. I don't know how he does it" (A. Warhol quoted in P. Hackett, ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 401). When Warhol joined in with Bob Colacello to question Jackson for Interview the following year, his own star-struck excitement was still palpable: "Gosh, this is exciting," he was recorded as saying. "You know, every time I use my Walkman I play your cassette." This portrait, then, shows Warhol continuing to pay homage to this young and rising celebrity and also, having featured in its sister-version on the cover of Time, forms a part in the creation of one of the great cultural icons of our age.