Marilyn Minter almost gave me bangs. At the end of our interview at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, where her show runs through December 5, Minter looked at my mousy hair. “Let’s do it right now,” she said, eyeing the table for scissors. “It’ll look great.” A blonde employee with newly-shorn Minter bangs looked on, laughing.
Minter is an artist who cares about human detail. She cares about the way bangs fall on a face, freckles dance across a nose, or socks hug a calf. “I love the idea of making images of the parts of the body that we all have, but that no one pays attention to, like the soft area underneath your nose,” she wrote in her monograph. The human body has, after all, become the focus of her work: it’s the subject of her new Mouth Series, large-scale carnal paintings and photographs. “I looked for models with really long tongues,” she says.
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The mouth paintings will be on view next to the Pam Series—pop-erotica paintings and photographs of a makeup-free Pamela Anderson lathering herself in soap. “I thought if I took off all her makeup—she’s a really pretty girl,” Minter said of Anderson, whom she originally photographed for Parkett magazine in 2007. “So I took off all her makeup and gave her bangs.”
• Art Beast: The Best of Art, Photography, and DesignAnderson is not the first celebrity Minter has worked with. Madonna chose Minter’s current masterpiece, Green Pink Caviar—a hypnotic nine-minute video of luscious-lipped models licking and sucking glass covered with ultra-bright goo—as the backdrop for a song during her recent “Sticky & Sweet” tour. And Jay-Z and Beyoncé have also recently commissioned a large-scale painting. But instead of creating a literal portrait of the couple, Minter cryptically says that she will paint “the fission between the two of them,” and play with the “space between them” in her art.
Fabienne Stephan, the director of Salon 94, a New York gallery where Minter had a show in the spring, didn’t disclose the price of the commission. But she said that Minter’s large-scale paintings cost up to $400,000. Since this work is a commission—rare for Minter—it is likely that Jay-Z and Beyonce’s work will sell for much more than that. (Until the painting arrives, Stephan said, the pair has a large-scale photograph by Minter hanging as a “place holder” in their home.)
This is, finally, Marilyn Minter’s moment. Over the course of a 40-year career, Minter has experimented with different art movements—her haunting early photographs were inspired by Diane Arbus; her work in the 1970s took a cue from Pop artists such as Tom Wesselmann and Andy Warhol; she participated in the artists’ community that spawned Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat on the Lower East Side in the 1980s; she dabbled with the disjointed voyeurism of Neo-Expressionism in the 1990s. But as the millennium dawned, something clicked: Marilyn Minter became a sum of all her previous parts—and came distinctly into her own.
Perhaps most unique about Minter is her technique—she’s both a Luddite and a new-media pioneer. Minter takes photographs with analog film (she believes digital degrades the image), which she then blows up. These photos serve as unadulterated “drawings.” To create a painting however, the process is completely different: Minter begins with a photograph, which she scans and then manipulates using Photoshop. She applies more sparkles on an eye, more beads of sweat on an upper lip, more freckles on a chin. “I got more and more of what I wanted,” Minter says of the process of inserting more “reality” into a photo. “I realized—I don’t need any of it. I can change the whole photo. I can get exactly what I want.” From the new digital images, Minter and her six-person team create massive paintings on enamel and then soften the paint with their fingertips. In this sense, she sees herself as a “photo-replacer” rather than a photo-realist. Although she’s injecting “reality” into her work by soiling feet or adding sweat, the image she’s working from is entirely artificial. “I am an illusionist,” Minter says. “That’s why I create art.” She pauses to paraphrase Picasso: “You have to tell lies to tell the truth.”
This show at Regen Projects will be the first time Minter has shown in California since 1991. Minter went to the gallery straight from LAX. At over six feet tall, she wore all-black plane clothes, which were offset by a neon necklace and a shock of red hair. She took an immediate spin around the space, eyeing the walls where her mixed-media works will soon hang. The show will include new photographs and paintings from the Mouth Series, along with several of her Pamela Anderson nudes, and a video installation of Green Pink Caviar.
But when Minter arrives in Los Angeles, she takes over the entire city. Digital billboards of the her video have been installed along Sunset Boulevard. Minter has designed bags to benefit Bright Pink—a non-for-profit organization that fights breast cancer. In the past, Minter has photographed spreads for fashion magazines, decorated models for MAC Cosmetics, and even designed skateboard decks for the urban clothing brand Supreme. In this sense, Minter’s art fits neatly into the commercial world. And, as with Warhol’s soup cans or Marilyn Monroes, Minter isn’t afraid to let mass-market ideas find their way into her work. The choice to paint Pamela Anderson shows just how intertwined with commercialism her work has become.
But the former Baywatch star is also the perfect muse for Minter because she communicates an idea of feminine strength—which the artist believes is central to her work. “I like working with women who own their own power,” Minter says. “[Pam’s] not a victim. She’s sort of the anti-Marilyn Monroe. I think women can own sexuality and images of sexuality and sexual beings and still be powerful people.”
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.