Fionn Wilson

The Angel of Light

For a painter I can't think of anything more daunting than creating a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Not only did Monroe have a strikingly beautiful face, and that kind of beauty – for a painter – is a problem or a challenge in itself, but also, it is a face depicted countless times already. In fact, it is arguably one of the world's most famous faces, on par with the 'Mona Lisa'. How do you paint a face like that, a face that everybody knows, if not in detail then at least as a kind of symbol signifying 'Marilyn Monroe'? This is the third thing, the third problem, and perhaps the most critical one: that Monroe by now has become larger than life, almost mythological, and as an essentially empty bit of mythology it does nothing but refer to itself, continuously and never endingly, stripping Monroe of her humanity and reducing her to a sign. She was and is, people like to say, a "sex symbol"; the important word being "symbol". This is a major problem for an artist, for the only way to paint a symbol is to reproduce the symbol. This is what Warhol did with his Monroe series. He accepted and followed this logic. It was an artistic gesture that can't be repeated, however, and anyone these days attempting to depict Marilyn Monroe as the symbol we can all recognise risks ending up with nothing but kitch. The vast majority of painted portraits of Monroe fall into this category. But not Fionn Wilson's.

The myth of Monroe is empty in the sense that it doesn't – as a proper myth ought to do – lay a foundation for living or give us what the Greeks called a 'logos', an ordering wisdom or principle. In her portrait of Monroe, Fionn Wilson has managed to sort of circumnavigate all of the talk about Monroe, to skip the idea of 'the myth of Monroe' as a story about a now mythological person, in order to instead focus on the reason why she ended up becoming mythological in the first place. The myth might be empty, but it is full of light. That's what makes Fionn Wilson's portrait extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful: that rather than showing us just a symbol, a sex symbol, it shows us both the birth of this symbol and its disintegration back into what it really is. Wilson has painted Marilyn Monroe as an angel of light, and in a way that allows Monroe the real person to come forth and breathe, without forcing her to personify any of the many ideas people have about her. Monroe ended up becoming a modern myth because of her beauty; because of the almost other-worldly light that radiated from her. Fionn Wilson's portrait captures this in the most exquisite way.

Throughout all of her painting so far, the interplay between body and light, and the sensuality of both has been at the core of Fionn Wilson's work. It is no wonder that she is fascinated by and drawn to the image of Monroe. The portrait of Monroe is a portrait of Monroe, but at the same time it is 100 per cent Wilson in that it, in a poetic way, sums up much of what her artistic vision is about. Monroe shines, and so does Wilson's art. There is an angel of light in her paintings.

Bo Gorzelak Pedersen,
Art critic for the Danish art paper Kunstavisen