Breaking Out MJ (The King of Pop)

October 30, 2017

To me, it's always been impossible to imagine the prospect of developing a Pop Culture collection within the Graydon Wallace Art Gallery, and not include Michael Jackson. He has been on my list for a long time, and somehow I never got around to basing a project on him. But, like many projects that take time to develop, the results are often worth it. I really took my time to practice the dynamism and posturing in his dance moves and poses, and toyed with various design concepts and variations. It was really a matter of trying to capture the energy of an entertainer best seen in motion, and working in a 2D static medium, to me, it was essential that I invested the time to harness that energy and capture it as effectively as possible. And so, with a little patience, and a determined mindset, I finally completed my first Michael Jackson portrait, aptly titled: MJ (The King of Pop).

 

 ** MJ (The King of Pop) 16 x 20 Inches Mixed Media

 

As a kid who grew up in the 80s, it was impossible not to be aware of Michael Jackson or his influence on Pop Culture...especially during that time. In a decade full of superstars, he was THE superstar, catapulted into the stratosphere after the rapturous reception of his album Thriller, his first performance of the moonwalk on the Motown 25 Show and its effect on the budding MTV world, and popular music at large. Whether you were a casual music fan, not a huge fan of pop music, or even Michael Jackson himself, it was nearly impossible to ignore his presence and poise as a performer. He was a force of nature onstage, and the very definition of an icon. For legions of fans who existed before the moonwalk, and after, it was pure ecstacy to hear his voice, and incredible magic to watch him move. I was maybe too young to contemplate his phenomenon or impact while it was happening, but even then it was unavoidable to be aware of it, while his name hung in the air, his music played on the radio, and his videos graced the television screen. It wasn't until his career was past its peak and music fans discovered new icons and heroes with the advent of grunge, rap and alternative music as the 1990s moved on, that his star began to wane. His reputation had been marred by unproven sexual abuse allegations, and in his personal life he was in a state of mental and physical decline, incarcerated by his own fame, damaged by the media, used by people and cast down from a position of awe, respect and high status in the entertainment world to the position a freak, scrutinized and tormented inside a cell he couldn't seem to get out of. Despite the tabloid scandals, strange behaviour, and increasingly distorted perspectives on him as a man, his legacy and accomplishments, however, were never forgotten...but sadly, they were unfairly taken for granted until his death in 2009. Like so many child stars, the transition from childhood to adulthood was a painful one for Michael Jackson, always in the spotlight, and never able to fully evolve from the child entertainer he was into the man he became, yearning for an innocence lost he was still trying to recapture. He never had real friends in his youth, never mingled with people his own age, never had an opportunity to approach the awkward phase of adolescence with peers who were experiencing the same thing, and never comfortable in his own skin. He never made it through unscathed and the more famous he became, the more sycophants surrounded him, and the isolation and failing trust he developed in people was crippling. The stage was the only place in his youth and his prime where he was able to forget those things, and where his audience could forget his eccentricities and simply be awestruck by a talent so rare. His music was his soul and the place where his humanity crept through, despite all the world took from him, and it will live forever. It's the tragic side to entertainers that we often find so fascinating, but in Michael Jackson's case it always made me feel especially sad. I have and will always be grateful for his music, however, enjoying the rhythms of his life and the energy he put into it, for us all to move to.

 

For MJ (The King of Pop), I chose to capture the man during, what for me was his most iconic era and album: Bad. Because I was a little young when Thriller hit the world, his follow up album, Bad, always struck a chord with me and is closest to my heart. Emboldened by the success of his self-composed hits from the Thriller album (Billie Jean, Wanna Be Starting Something, The Girl Is Mine, and Beat It), Jackson found in himself the confidence (with producer Quincy Jones' urging) to write the lion's share of material that would make up the Bad album. Onstage and on record, the album reflected the best aspects of Michael Jackson as a singer, dancer, songwriter and performer, with a tough edge, a range of sonic textures and tones, cinematically lyrical flights of fantasy, and emotional variety. The tougher and more mature edge to Michael's image shone through in tracks like Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel, Dirty Diana, Speed Demon and Smooth Criminal, and the more nuanced and emotional moments showcased on Liberian Girl, I Just Can't Stop Loving You, and of course, Man In The Mirror. From a visual standpoint, I wanted my art to reflect the era and quality of those songs and his stage presence while performing them.

 

-G

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