Marilyn Manson’s music is best viewed as a whole package. The artist and the art are inseparable. His album covers and accompanying image, the character he embodies for that piece of work, contribute to the provocateur’s chosen symbolism. When he began expressing his thoughts in paintings, it’s no surprise that those too hold greater value when understood as part of something bigger.
Manson, whose real name is Brian Hugh Warner, has two very distinct sides. Even the name, juxtaposing the beauty of Marilyn Monroe and the murderous manipulations of Charles Manson, highlight the dichotomy of chaos and order. This isn’t just a namesake though, but something completely lived.
The public Manson is known for how he looks - which everyone can see - and the accusations and rumours of what his music and lyrics contain - something that far more people have an idea or opinion of than have actually taken the time to consume. He’s an easy scapegoat. He swears in interviews. He looks vaguely non-human on his album covers and espouses pseudo-philosophical notions of evil.
Beyond all that though, is an articulate intellect and visionary creator. These aforementioned reasons are superficial and dangerously simplistic. They only make it to the gate, where Manson wishes to ward most people off anyway, not that they’d have gained anything from entry anyway. But for those willing to stick around - he’s nothing like the shock-doctor portrayed, and much more like a dissenting voice that is genuinely filled with a hatred towards a business and people (entertainment/celbrity) that deserve it and a true compassion towards ordinary people.
Case in point - the Columbine High School Massacre. Manson was a martyr for disaffected youth. His shocking imagery was easy for politicians to point at, for parents to turn away from and as a result, the flip-side meant that many congregated around him. When the massacre took place in 1999 - where 12 students and a teacher were killed - the media needed to rationalise the evil of the perpetrators. So, they turned to the entertainment that they consumed.
Top of the pile was Marilyn Manson. Portrayed as the Pied Piper of some gothic cult, revered by the two shooters, Manson became a lightning rod for criticism and blame, yet offered one of the most eloquent reflections on the tragedy in its wake. Asked by Michael Moore, “If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine and the people in the community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?”, Manson simply replied, “I wouldn't say a single word to them—I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did.”
It’s in this context that we can understand his art, as a picture of the man is now better unsheathed. His paintings continue in the grotesque vein of his musical imagery, often covering the same popular cultural references too, particularly in his Black Dahlia paintings, where he portrays the infamous murder victim as both portrait and mutilated body.
Utilising watercolour, with a rough style, where the inks bleed into each other, Manson’s paintings have an oppressive and melancholic feel, with deformed bodies a common theme, a further exploration of the grotesque that Manson identifies in American politics and popular culture. Although, rather than lampooning it, Manson embraces and celebrates it in his paintings. Beyond a theme, the grotesque becomes a focal point.
That’s what Manson has continually done throughout his career, pointed the light towards things less understood, manifesting in his own character. His paintings aren’t separate from his music, or the person, but another part of the Marilyn Manson universe that we can only understand if we see it as one giant, chaotic whole.
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