Audrey Flack was one of the most significant feminist artists in the 20th century, although she denied her close connection with feminism. In fact, she created her works just to express her own vision of the surrounding world and to manifest her creativity. In this regard, Merilyn (1977) is one of the most remarkable paintings created by Audrey Flack, which mirrors her views and shows feminist trends in her paintings. This painting mirrors the position of women and traditional gender-related biases and stereotypes relating to the position of women in the society.
In actuality, Merilyn Monroe, whom Audrey Flack depicts in her painting, was the symbol of female beauty in her time. At the same time, she was the symbol of the biased attitude of the society to women. In fact, Merilyn was a symbol of female beauty but this was a male view on women and the artist attempts to show that this view was biased and stereotyped. Her painting reveals the full extent to which the image of a beautiful woman, like Merilyn, was illusionary and created respectively to male standards and views.
The panting contains the portrait of Merylin Monroe, which resembles the original photo of the celebrity, which reflects in the mirror next to the portrait. The painting contains flowers and cosmetics surrounding the portrait. In such a way, the artist attempts to convey the traditional view on the female lifestyle and their personal space in homes. In addition, the painting contains the photo of children on the forefront of the painting, which implies the importance of children in the life of a woman. At the same time, this element indicates to the social role women play in the family and society being mothers above all. Also, there are other symbolic elements. For instance, the calendar and watches remind about the importance of time and give insight to internal fears of women as they are afraid of growing older. The fruits depicted on the painting imply the healthy lifestyle women are attempting to lead and their concerns with their physical shape and health. Finally, glamorous cloth is covering lower and upper part of the painting that indicate to the glamour of Merylin Monroe.
In fact, Marilyn is among the most significant works of the artist’s oeuvre. Drawing from the related traditions of still life, vanitas, and trompe l’oeil, Flack’s painting endows material objects with layered symbolic meaning and expands the possibilities of these historical genres through innovations in form and content (Thompson, 115). However, the material objects she depicts seem to be illusory, in spite of intentional realism of her painting. The realism of her painting is intentional and the artist uses the paradox because the realism of the painting implies the fake stereotypes and views of society on females, which have little in common with female nature. What is meant here is the fact that the objects Audrey Flack depicts in her painting have little in common with the real life of woman but they rather mirror biases and stereotypes imposed on women by male dominated society. Women have to use and surround themselves with the objects she depicts in the painting under the impact of the society and gender-related biases and stereotypes.
Furthermore, Flack celebrates the lush textures and colors of the physical world with her densely packed depictions of illusionistically-rendered objects (Thompson, 173). In fact, the painting depicts a variety of objects that surround and accompany women in their regular life. In this regard, the image of Merilyn Monroe symbolizes the ideal female, according to dominant social views. As a vanitas (a still life that alludes to the vanity of worldly pleasures and to life’s transient nature), Marilyn serves as a commemorative meditation on the life, death and celebrity of Marilyn Monroe; it includes both conventional vanitas symbols (an hourglass, a candle) and modern ones (a photograph, a calendar) (Lindey, 23).
At the same time, Audrey Flack’s painting is quite different from other vanitas and similar works of art. Specialists argue that unlike traditional still lifes, Marilyn also operates as a self-portrait in which Flack associates her role as artist with the movie star’s role in creating a public persona, and in which she contemplates the passage of time in her own life through self-referential objects (Thompson, 175). In such a way, she depicts Merilyn Monroe and shows the background of the life of a woman as the society conditions it.
In fact, Flack’s Marilyn functions within the American still life tradition, particularly that of trompe l’oeil (“trick the eye”), whereby illusionistic representations of commonplace items create three-dimensional effects (Thompson, 189). However, the realism of the depiction of the objects in the painting help viewers to perceive the actual message of the artist that women were forced to live in the environment created by men. She attempts to create all the objects realistically to show that they are present in the real life of any woman but they do not actually mirror the real intentions and inclinations of women.
Also, it is worth mentioning the fact that, as a Photorealist, Flack also endeavors to make objects appear to be real. While the aims of Photorealism are more conceptual than perceptual, Flack’s work shares the trompe l’oeil interest in the materiality of objects and in investigating the nature of illusion, reality, and mimesis (Chase, 195). In fact, the artist eliminates the boundary between illusion and reality. She makes illusion a part of reality and, vice versa, she makes reality illusory. Her painting shows the position of women in the American society and the traditional, biased attitude of the society to women in the time of the creation of the painting.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that Audrey Flack was a representative of feminist art and her paintings mirror the position of women in the American society. At the same time, the artist implies that women should change their position and reject dominant stereotypes and gender-related biases.
Chase, Linda. Photorealism at the Millennium, The Not-So-Innocent Eye: Photorealism in Context. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 2002.
Lindey, Christine. Superrealist Painting and Sculpture, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1980
Thompson, Graham. American Culture in the 1980s (Twentieth Century American Culture) Edinburgh University Press, 2007.