“Beauty? What is that? Beauty itself is nothing.”
- Andy Warhol
Banksy has taken Warhol’s image of Marilyn Monroe and replaced her face with that of Kate Moss, who represents for her generation something of what Monroe did for hers. Moss’ image is very widely known through its use in advertising, fashion etc. Banksy has taken an icon from today, as Warhol did in the 1960s, and satirised it in this portrait. For Warhol, the purpose of the Monroe portrait was to integrate an everyday image, something never considered to relate to ‘high art’, into his own art.
The theories of semiotics circulated by Roland Barthes and Theodore Adorno have a great relevance to the work of Warhol, and by extension, Banksy. Barthes and Adorno argued that a myth is created when an image (or word etc) is taken from its original context, which is then silenced and placed to one side, though never forgotten. The image alone can then take on whatever meaning, history and idea the creators wish to give it. Warhol has taken the image of a famous film star, and whilst her history and story are relevant and widely known, they are not allowed to become the focus of the piece. Instead, by multiplying, re-colouring and chopping the image, Warhol makes his own agenda the subject of the myth. People seeing the image may know of Monroe’s story, but what they see in Warhol’s work is the repetition of fame, the falsehoods etc. Banksy adds to this myth: the idea of replacement becomes part of it, for Moss’ image is for Banksy what Monroe’s was for Warhol, and yet there is no conceptual difference between them, all that has changed is that Banksy is saying that not only is fame/Hollywood/celebrity repetitive and illusory, those involved are also thoroughly replaceable. Banksy’s piece also implies a certain lack of imagination on the part of the media world, and also, perhaps, on art itself.
Andy Warhol’s 1962 print, ‘Marilyn’, shows the face of Marilyn Monroe reproduced many times and printed in bright colours; it is, essentially, the direct ancestor and inspiration for Banksy’s ‘Kate’. Warhol chose sex symbol Marilyn Monroe as his model for a series of prints which speak of celebrity culture and the use of iconography. Warhol understood, saw through, and yet was fascinated by the nature of pop culture and media imaging. He was concerned with representing an image in a way that would shape its meaning, despite there already being a back story behind the subject itself. Just as Banksy has not set out to make a nice picture of Kate Moss herself, Warhol used Monroe as a symbol of a wider message.