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Les Fleurs du mal

Marilyn Manson

12-30 November, 2007

Evil Blooms in Watercolor

It would be easiest to decide that Marilyn Manson is an artist who has created exactly one work of genius Ц himself. The genius of it begins with the name, which combines the feminine and the masculine, the glamorous despair of Marilyn Monroe's stardom and the intolerable hell of Charles Manson, a serial killer whose victims to this day occasionally guide the artist's hand in his watercolor series. Marilyn Manson says of himself, "Marilyn Monroe is not a real name; Charles Manson either. Today, I claim that this is my real name. But what is true and what is not? It is impossible to find the truth, but one can choose a lie which one likes the most."

It would be very easy to take the 38-year old son of a nurse and a furniture salesman for his one and only creation, but the trouble is that Marilyn Manson started to paint long before he became famous. Now, his musical success gets in the way of our reception of Manson the artist. And yet he not infrequently puts music aside to pursue art. In his watercolors one senses the same aesthetic model as in his music: it is a site of connection of his identity, his personal outrageousness with the poetic themes of contemporary media madness.

Speaking at an opening of one of his exhibitions, the artist had said, "When I was first creating "Marilyn Manson," he was merely my alter-ego, but as time passed, the differences and boundaries between us got erased. I am no longer Brian Warner, I'm Marilyn Manson."

As an artist, Manson is honest in the most elevated sense of the word: he looks for art and poetry in the most unpleasant aspects of life. His themes are: death, mutilation, dependency, transgression, violence, serial killers and their innocent victims. He is on the side of the victims, although he does not at all look like a victim himself. But he searches in that realm for that which attracts the indifferent gaze of the world's evil.

In light green, red, black, and peach he often paints the young Elizabeth Short, who dreamt of acting on the stage, but instead was dismembered by a serial killer in a quiet Los Angeles park. Following in Baudelaire's footsteps, he reminds us of the flowering of evil. He paints the horrific as one would flowers Ц Elizabeth, cut into pieces, lies on her back, her wounds blooming in shades of maroon and purple. In the portrait Elizabeth Short as Snow White (A smile II), Manson depicts Short with a mouth slit from ear to ear, almost as if smiling, with pale lemon-green skin and orange-red lips, with eye-lids like autumn leaves. "No one knows, whom she might have become," says Manson, "but she is more than simply an idea; her death coincided with the peak of Surrealism, which has influenced me a lot, and if I could live in a different time, I would have chosen that one." Manson searches for art in the gloomiest and darkest mystery, in the painful depths of the strangeness characteristic only of man.

Manson returns to us images of traditional evil as a fundamental duality, at once rejected by society and lying at the very foundation of Western culture. When Manson reminds us of the West's Christian morality and the serial murders committed in its name, he seems to be almost a patriarch, this watercolor-loving young man with tattoos all over his body. His message can seem shocking and new only to idiots, whom he rather dislikes. Of course, everyone has his own idea about idiots. But since the time of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), society has not had to pick up a heavier glove than the one that Manson throws down in the face of the hypocrisy of modern civilization.

Text by Alexander Evangely
Translation by Ksenya Gurshtein

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