At some point in our lives, particularly during our doe eyed childhood, we felt a trickle of awareness and awe when it came to Marilyn Manson. Since the very start of his musical career, he attracted audiences by building a persona based on open sexuality and "satanic" rituals. He secured a spot in the music business and in the collective unconscious of the audience. I remember watching as a kid one of his demonized performances on television and those images became ingrained in my mind. While still playing his role as the darkest icon of the nineties, he also started a career in painting that, surprisingly, is as perplexing as his strange musical creations.
Experience Is the Mistress of Fools (2004)
Manson's paintings transcend the dark façade of his demonic and sexual, heavy rock performances, for they do not focus on the macabre aesthetic that defines his musicAL persona. Instead, he uses this medium to focus on more complex subjects using a style that, while visceral, is much more subtle than the upfront defiance of his gruesome concerts and music videos.
Lucifer (ca. 2007)
Starting his career as a painter in 1999, Manson has since maintained that his visual work is just as important as his musical career, even though both have different approaches. In the last ten years his work has garnered the attention of the media and he's viewed as a counterculture artist who's intensely rebellious and iconoclastic. His highly constructed persona has secured him a mainstream audience in music ,but as a painter his following is far more discreet. However, he hasn't gone unnoticed, his art has been exhibited in world-class museums, such as the Kunsthalle Wien.
Manson has said he has been inspired by three painters in particular: Salvador Dalí, Egon Schiele, and Francis Bacon, which can be seen in his dreamlike, visceral, and expressionistic style. Going one step beyond the satanist and overtly sexual tone of his performances as musician, his watercolors are both delicate and visually violent.
Left: Taking Lives, Director's Cut DVD Cover
Right: Angelina (ca. 2004)
Among his work, we can find paintings that reflect on the vices of contemporary American society, constantly using visual references from pop culture and making a sensitive commentary on the media's distortion of society. In his painting Angelina, for example, he portrays Angelina Jolie —who's actually a close friend of his— as a character that has been pierced by nails. This watercolor is based on the 2004 movie poster for Taking Lives, where she interprets a policewoman who goes after a serial killer. The image, however, does not seem to represent a strong woman or a powerful celebrity. It's more of a portrayal of vulnerability, her purple skin alluding to bruises. Instead of regarding the celebrity as someone who has managed to secure a place in the highest echelons of society, he shapes her as a potential victim of violence.
Oh, I Am Scared Now (ca. 2007)
His views on the media take on even more explicit tones in other pieces such as Oh, I Am Scared Now, where he depicts a man in a blue suit who has rifles instead of hands and a large camera in place of a head. The blood red background speaks of violence and this is heightened by the man's intimidating posture with the loaded guns. Through pieces like this, Manson deals with the subject of representation and equates the power of the media with military repression.
Concentration Camp Sexy (ca. 2010)
He's got other pieces where he explores the absurd beauty standards of our time by representing deformed figures that, ironically, match the ruthless body types that the fashion industry applauds. Perhaps, one of the pieces where he does this the best is in Concentration Camp Sexy, where the main subject is a scrawny woman who is walking down a typical fashion catwalk. The title of the picture goes on step further by making us reflect on how such an applauded body type hides physical torture and sickliness.
Eventually they discovered that JFK was, in fact, a firearm
Besides focusing on social subjects, Manson's work also takes inspiration from literary works and history. One of the most common subjects in his paintings is Adolf Hitler, whom he constantly represents as a demon. This historical revision also focuses on characters of American history, such as JFK, whom he portrays with the body of a gun in the painting with the self-explanatory title Eventually they discovered that JFK was, in fact, a firearm, alluding not only to his assassination, but also to his role in the Cuban Missile crisis. Hence, through his visceral yet vivid watercolors, Manson is constantly challenging his viewers to evaluate their past and present. Manson's visual work, unlike his music, is an acute call to political reflection.