My Marilyn is a print derived from photographs of the screen actress Marilyn Monroe (1926–62) that the artist saw in Town magazine, in November 1962, not long after her death that August. Photographs taken by George Barris covered a double-page spread. Hamilton recounted:
Marilyn Monroe demanded that the results of photographic sessions be submitted to her for vetting before publication. She made indications, brutally and beautifully in conflict with the image, on proofs and transparencies to give approval or reject; or suggestions for retouching that might make them acceptable. After her death some were published … with her markings – crosses and ticks, notes for retouching, instructions to the photographer, even the venting of physical aggression by attacking the emulsion with nail-file or scissors. There is a fortuitous narcissism to be seen for the negating cross is also the childish symbol for a kiss; but the violent obliteration of her own image has a self-destructive implication that made her death all the more poignant. My Marilyn starts with her signs and elaborates the possibilities these suggest.
(Quoted in Collected Words, p.65.)
In 1964 Hamilton photographed the images from the magazine, which comprised four black and white 35mm contact prints, marked by the actress, and a full size version of the photograph she approved. He then repeated these images in various dimensions in a collage, painting over Monroe’s markings on the rejected shots in various shades of oil paint. This work, My Marilyn (paste-up), 1964 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) was the source for the painting My Marilyn, 1965 (Stadt Aachen, Ludwig Forum für internationale Kunst) and for this screenprint. It repeats each of the original contact prints three times in two different dimensions.
Hamilton began work on the screenprint in the fine art department at King’s College, Newcastle (then part of the University of Durham), where he had been teaching since 1953. As they had no screenprinting facilities, the artist borrowed screens from the textile department to create a series of eleven trial proofs. He experimented with a photomechanical technique to produce negatives as well as positives of the photographs, eventually blending both states in the final version of the proof. Because of the limitations of his technology, Hamilton was unable to produce a consistent edition of the print. Following a selected proof, he reworked the image at Kelpra Studio in London, where he had previously printed Adonis in Y fronts, 1963 (P04247). Eventually My Marilyn was screenprinted using nine stencils by the artist and Chris Prater on TH Saunders paper. The edition size was set at seventy-five plus an unknown number of artist’s and printer’s proofs. It was published by Editions Alecto, London.
The dominant pink and grey tones of My Marilyn evoke the palette used by the Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning (1904–97) in his series of Woman paintings made during the 1950s. While heavily influenced by ‘primitive’ images of female fetishes, de Kooning’s paintings combined these with American billboard and pinup goddesses, the icons of popular culture. Hamilton was familiar with these paintings and had them in mind when he worked on his print (Lullin, p.70). Photography – the main media material – was an essential source for Pop art in the early 1960s providing abundant and ubiquitous access to images of celebrity and glamour. The quintessential American Pop artist, Andy Warhol (1928–87) contributed some of the best known images of Marilyn Monroe. In the months following her death, Warhol used a publicity photograph of the actress from the 1953 film Niagara to create more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, such as Marilyn Diptych, 1962 (T03093). His silkscreen images of Monroe are still best-selling posters. By titling his image with the possessive pronoun ‘my’, Hamilton staked a claim to his version of the Marilyn myth.
In the mid 1960s Hamilton began consciously to categorize the types of imagery he derived from found photographs. Images from the field of cinema generated Hamilton’s portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland in 1963–4 (P78721) and his Interiors in 1964–5 (T00912 and P04250). He continued to work with pictures of celebrity in a series of prints based on a press photograph of his art dealer Robert Fraser handcuffed to the rock star Mick Jagger in the late 1960s and early 1970s (P01855, P04254, P04255, P02416–32 and T01144). As well as contributing to the postcard works, such as People, 1968 (P01019), found photographs of anonymous people were the source for A dedicated follower of fashion in 1980 (P07448) and The marriage in 1998 (P78290). Images from advertising provided the materials for Adonis in Y fronts, 1962 (P04247), Fashion plate, 1969–70 (P07937) and Soft pink landscape, 1980 (P07447). More recently Hamilton has used photographs taken in his own home and spaces where he has exhibited to create paintings and digital collage (P78289, P78705, P78919 and P20287).
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939–2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.68–71, reproduced p.71 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1939–83, Stuttgart and London 1984, p.46, fig.59, reproduced front and back cover and p.46 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953–1982, Stuttgart and London 1982, pp.65–6.