The Michael Jackson Respect Portrait by Karin Merx
By Karin Merx & Elizabeth Amisu

Karin Merx, Michael Jackson, ink on water colour paper

Title: Portrait Drawing of Michael Jackson

Year: 2014

Medium: Ink pen on watercolor paper

Frame & Sight: 44.5 x 34.5 cm

Location: Private Collection of Elizabeth Amisu.

Purchase Prints: here>>

Licensing Information: Email here for image rights. N.B. This artwork, the image and its reproduction and use belong to the copyright holders: artist, Karin Merx and the owner, Elizabeth Amisu. Any unauthorized reproduction of this image is strictly forbidden.


This entry on The Journal of Michael Jackson Studies is regarding the portrait of Michael Jackson, as created by Karin Merx. Merx started this piece after being inspired by the portrait of Shakespeare, which is a posthumous artwork, that has become iconic for Shakespeare’s representation. The amalgamated Jacks-pearean Portrait is included as the cover of The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife. It is also included within the book’s introduction. There is also a comprehensive interview with Merx in ‘Chapter 19 – Moonwalkers: Michael Jackson’s Unique Fandom‘, for those who wish to know more about the book. The portrait is a cornerstone of the publication, as well as Merx’s academic writing and teaching about Jackson.

Merx first learned about the connection of Shakespeare and Michael Jackson in 2014, while working with early modernist, Elizabeth Amisu, and seeing Michael Jackson as the Shakespeare of our time was a revelation. She was particularly inspired by Martin Droeshout, who made an engraving of Shakespeare for the cover of the First Folio.

by Martin Droeshout, engraving, 1632 or 1663-1664
William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout engraving, 1632 or 1663-1664 7 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (191 mm x 159 mm). Purchased, 1864 Primary Collection NPG 185.

Droeshout’s portrait however, is simply an idea of Shakespeare, as it was created at least 16 years after Shakespeare’s death. You can find more about Droeshout’s portrait of William Shakespeare in the website of the National Portrait Gallery here>>. It was of great interest to Merx that Jackson was the most photographed person in the world. Many people though they knew what he looked like, but did they truly know him? Not really. They knew the entertainer, and many were not even remotely concerned with the man behind the artist.

Sam Emerson, Michael Jackson portrait photo
Photo Copyright: Optimum Productions. By Photographer Sam Emerson. Book Cover Copyright – 2011. Sterling Publishing. New York.

Like William Shakespeare, an artist is first a person. Jackson’s personas stripped him of his humanity, and they can be read about in detail in ”Throwing Stones to Hide Your Hands’: The Mortal Persona of Michael Jackson’. Jackson was an artist who must first be humanized in order to truly be appreciated. Merx’s most salient goal for this portrait was to create an original work that depicted Jackson as both refined and regal. Merx was also inspired by the photoshopped creations of Steve Payne, whose Tumblr replaceface.com hosted a great deal of reconstituted images of faces and bodies. Merx particularly liked the photograph of Jackson in the cover of Joseph Vogel’s acclaimed book, Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael JacksonJackson’s love for costumes, including a military and/or renaissance style was also incorporated. You can read more about Jackson’s love of costume in ‘Chapter 6 – “Liberace Has Gone to War”: Undressing Michael Jackson’s Fashion’. Merx intricately incorporated the military formal wear of Leopold, Prince of Saxe-Coburg in George Dawe’s 1825 portrait below (Portrait of Leopold, Prince of Saxe-Coburg (1790-1865))

Leopold, Prince of `saxe-Coburg
George Dawe. c. 1825. Leopold, Prince of Saxe-Coburg. Oil on canvas. 70 x 62,5 cm. Hermitage Museum. Moscow.
left original painting, right is MJ's face photoshopped in the costume.
L-R. George Dawe. c. 1825. Leopold, Prince of Saxe-Coburg. Oil on canvas. 70 x 62,5 cm. Hermitage Museum. St. Petersburg./Photoshopped image of Michael Jackson’s head from Sam Emerson’s photograph incorporated into the Dawe portrait.

A range of book covers have been published in the last seven years with Michael Jackson’s image, and many have been unfavorable, in particular the cover of The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson. Author, Elizabeth Amisu, who is the private owner of The Michael Jackson Respect Portrait was particularly concerned that high status black individuals be given a prerequisite amount of coverage in the museums and establishments of Western culture. It was apparent that Jackson’s quest for world domination was often typified as the ravings of a megalomaniac, whereas colonization of imperial masters was often regarded as a Golden Age. It struck both Merx and Amisu that they encountered visual images of white power wherever they went, but images of high status blacks were few and far between.

Book Cover of 'The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson'. Edited by Mark Fisher. Zero Books. 2009.
Book Cover of ‘The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson’. Edited by Mark Fisher. Zero Books. 2009.

The Process of Drawing The Michael Jackson Respect Portrait
Merx’s process of constructing this drawing is noted in detail in The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic AfterlifeHigh-resolution images are also incorporated. Merx began by sketching the work, and would have liked to do a wood-engraved etching, which is included in the Droeshout portrait. However, she decided to opt for pen and ink, as this echoed the magic of the early modern printing press, with which early modern printings such as the First Folio had been published. With The Respect Portrait, Merx returns to the world of Shakespearean style. The magical and painstaking process can be seen below. High-resolution images of the portrait are also included in The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife.

after the pencil outline, the first ink
Process 1. (c) 2014 K. Merx.
more of the face
Process 2. (c) 2014 K. Merx.
Keeping the hair open to give it a sense of depth
Process 3. (c) 2014 K. Merx.
more of the costume
Process 3. (c) 2014 K. Merx.

 

 

 

 

 

 


dangerous-philosophies-new-cover The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic StudiesThe Final Project
Merx’s portrait is entrancing. The high-status image of an African-American man that Merx produces is truly breathtaking. The portrait was included in the cover of The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson, and Merx has made available prints of the portrait also.

Jackson’s regality is not in question with this powerful image of his visage. A face that cannot be truly known, but whose meaning continues to entrance.

Purchase Prints: here>>

Licensing Information: Email here for image rights. N.B. This artwork, the image and its reproduction and use belong to the copyright holders: artist, Karin Merx and the owner, Elizabeth Amisu. Any unauthorized reproduction of this image is strictly forbidden.

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