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Andy Warhol first screenprinted this well-known image of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 shortly after she committed suicide in her Brentwood, Los Angeles home. The original photograph was a publicity shot for the film Niagara taken in 1953. The screenprinting medium allowed Warhol to reproduce the same image repeatedly, establishing Marilyn’s image as one that was boundlessly reproducible.
Screenprinting is a process that utilizes the properties of a stencil; some areas are blocked out and other areas are printed through. The stencil is created on a mesh screen using a light sensitive emulsion which hardens when exposed to light. First the screen is coated with the light sensitive emulsion. Next a black and white photograph—such as the one that Warhol used of Marilyn—is photocopied onto a transparent overlay. The transparent overlay is placed underneath the screen, which is placed on top of a light box. The screen is exposed to light, hardening the emulsion everywhere except where the image overlay has been placed. The area of the screen not exposed to light—in this case, the image of Marilyn—does not harden and can be washed away to reveal a stencil of the original image.
Warhol continued to print Marilyn’s image for years, eventually creating a series of ten screenprints in 1967. In these works, Warhol did not alter the original image of Marilyn beyond his choice of color palette. Warhol’s screenprinted portrait of Marilyn—stylized and glamorous—draws attention to the superficial qualities of her legendary public persona and in doing so subverts the characteristics of traditional portraiture. Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn reveals very little about who she was and yet it has become ubiquitous, much like her famous film performances.