At first glance, the paintings in artist Mike Foley’s new “Jimarilyn” exhibit look like Marilyn Monroe, but a deeper observation reveals much more.
In one portrait, Monroe is sticking out her tongue and in another she is smoking a cigarette.
Foley said the tongue and cigarette are his interpretation of musician, singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix coming through Monroe.
“These aren’t simply Marilyn Monroe portraits,” Foley said. “They’re studies of me trying to imagine what Hendrix saw when he says — after experiencing his first acid trip — he looked into a mirror but didn’t see himself. Instead, he saw Marilyn Monroe.”
He describes “Jimarilyn” as “a watercolor study of celebrity and psychedelic fluidity."
His exhibit will be on display Feb. 5-27 at Liberty Arts Coffee House at 526 N. Liberty St. in downtown Winston-Salem.
Foley got the idea for his latest exhibit after reading an Oct. 3 Wall Street Journal review by David Kirby about the book “Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix” by Philip Norman.
“I found Jimi’s story so interesting I could not stop thinking about it,” Foley said.
He said Hendrix’s experience inspired him to paint both Monroe and Hendrix portraits.
“She is him,” Foley said of Monroe. “She is who he saw in the mirror after tripping on acid, but this work is about attempting to capture the psychedelic spirit of Hendrix coming through her image.”
A life-long fan of Hendrix and Monroe, Foley has painted them as part of previous pop art shows. Hendrix was part of his show “Rock Stars in Jars,” and Monroe was part of a series of images in his “Rock Stars, Presidents and Pets with Bette Davis Eyes & Mick Jagger Lips” show.
Foley said he really wanted to bring Hendrix’s experience to life and merge the two icons.
“Black and pink! Rock and roll!” he said.
Although Hendrix sees himself as Marilyn Monroe, Foley knew his paintings could not be simply Monroe portraits.
“This is Jimi’s trip,” Foley said. “His personality and intensity have to come through. I’m just hanging on for the ride and channeling his experience through art.”
He said he is not a proponent of “dropping acid” but is interested in continuing to be a life-long fan of Hendrix and Monroe.
This is not the first time Foley has combined icons and mixed portrait imagery. He did so in 2005 with his show “SantaChrist.”
Foley grew up in Wisconsin and has lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. He moved to Winston-Salem in 1996. He has worked for about 25 years for large advertising agencies as a writer and creative director on different branding projects. His main focus is developing ideas and concepts for a variety of brands and nonprofits.
He is also an award-winning filmmaker of short digital films.
“I’ve produced short films and videos that have grown out of years of making commercials for multiple brands,” he said.
In 2010, his short film, “Becoming Abe,” was screened locally at Aperture Cinema.
A self-taught artist, Foley said he learned a lot from art directors.
“I really believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I feel like I have adopted that,” he said. “And creating visually allows us to speak globally.”
His artwork and/or videos have been shown at different galleries in Winston-Salem including SECCA and Artworks Gallery.
“I feel like I was born with a pack of crayons,” Foley said. “I always felt like I was meant to draw.”