Jeff Koons’s joyously sensual Triple Elvis has an exuberance of color, texture, form and subject matter. Channeling a pure Pop sensibility, it brings together a sequence of found imagery into a vivid, densely packed picture plane that allows nowhere for the eye to rest. Despite its photorealist finish, this is a pictorial invention that has little basis in reality. Instead, its flat, measured structure of vertical and horizontal forms is based on an extended process involving the fortuitous scavenging of images that are scanned, manipulated and collaged together in Adobe Photoshop before being transferred by hand onto canvas. Koons brings the same perfectionist approach to his paintings as he does his sculptures—consigning much of the labor to specially trained technicians while he oversees every aspect of the production. This process allows him to maintain an exacting control over his vision and the look and feel he seeks to achieve. A painting like Triple Elvis takes from a year-and-a-half to two years to realize, as the entire canvas is meticulously painted with carefully mapped colors and regulated brushstrokes one small area at a time. The result maintains the hard, bright look of a digital image and an impersonal intensity that reflects Koons’s desire to establish the authority of objectivity in his art.
Triple Elvis sees Koons looking back on his most formative influences. He has painstakingly selected each element of this composition as he perceives them to be steeped in personal, art historical and pop cultural significance. With the lobster, which lies splayed across the center of the canvas as if censoring the female figures below, Koons makes reference to two of his most important artistic heroes: Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. In the subject of this work, the pin-up girl, Koons saw something in the curled lips and come-hither eyes that reminded him of Elvis Presley. He also enjoyed reprising the concept and repetitive structure of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1963 series of silkscreened Elvis paintings. Whereas Warhol repeated the same film still image of Elvis across his various canvases, Koons amps up the sex symbol status of the subject by using shots of a nude model enacting a strip tease for the viewer.
The multiple and varied inferences of Triple Elvis kaleidoscope into one another. They are born out of Koon’s personal interests and experiences but ultimately convey a universal message that encourages viewers to take pleasure in life’s natural cycle. Its imagery may even be taken as a contemporary rendition of the ancient ‘ages of man’ trope—tracing our passage from the wonderment of childhood, to the fecundity of adulthood, to our eventual demise. This conceptually complex and fundamentally playful painting asks us to focus on what’s truly important, to transcend our cares and worries and, above all, to celebrate our very existence.