Famous Models of Contemporary Art

April 30, 2015

For centuries, portraits have been one of the most dominant theme in art and have provided a lot of useful information regarding history research in any aspect. Whether it was the history of art, the history of costumes, or even the psychological studies of the individual portrayed in the artwork, portraits have been the primary source in many cases. Many of the historical portraits, that we are familiar of, are of the famous kings, lords, scientists, artists. In short, of the wealthy people and of the people with a significant influence. Today, we recognize them also as famous art models, inspirations for masterpieces. With the development of photography, the nature of portraits has changed, they became more accessible, both technologically and financially. Nevertheless, we are still amazed by the famous art models, whether they are artists, actors, musicians or politicians.

famous art models
Left: Chuck Close - Eric Fischl / Right: Eric Fischl - Chuck Close and Sienna, 2012

famous art models
Left: Annie Leibovitz - Yoko Ono and John Lennon / Right: Annie Leibovitz - Michael Jackson

Famous Art Models in the Company of an Artist

It is no secret that famous people hang out together, either working closely or only for the fun of it. That often resulted in creating, as we know it today, artworks with famous art models. Andy Warhol and his Factory, apart from launching some of the superstars, also hosted a lot of the famous people from the world of arts like The Rolling Stones band, Liza Minnelli, Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, David Bowie, William S. Burroughs,  Nico and The Velvet Underground and Basquiat, amongst many others. That created an environment for a lot of different collaborations, for example David Lynch's involvement in music video directing, which were more artistically oriented than financially. What amuses us the most are the moments of privacy, an inside story to the life of the celebrities, captured by the artists in their close milieu. That kind of representation, an intimate capture of a person in everyday life, barren from the predefined glamour, draws us into their world. Paradoxically, that very idea made them famous as art models as well.  If we look retrospectively, mutual portraits in the world of artists were very popular with Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, again showing us the close bonds of the artists of the period.

famous art models
Andy Warhol's Polaroids - Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mapplethorpe, Julian Schanbel, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg

famous art models
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe - Arnold Schwarzenegger / Right: Robert Mapplethorpe - Richard Gere

Famous Art Models as the Stepping Stone for the Artist or Vice Versa

The story brings us back to Andy Warhol, but now in a bit different tone. Some of the most famous Pop-Art pieces are portraits of famous people reproduced and re-appropriated by Andy Warhol. Already acclaimed artists such as Elvis Presley, Marylin Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon, Pop icons in the right sense of the word, served as an inspiration to the artist and provided him more than fifteen minutes of fame, and in return, they were remembered as well as famous art models. Robert Mapplethorpe, produced some of the most famous portraits of the artists and Hollywood actors, such as Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Gere and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the images still recognizable in visual dialogues of everyday life. Probably even more recognizable and still active is American portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, a true producer of famous art models. She has been working with almost everybody who made it big in the showbiz. Since, we have big names in the art world on the both side of the camera lens, one might ask who is justifying whose credibility, and is there even a need for it. Is it all a part of the industry through the usage of presentational power?

famous art models
Left: Andy Warhol - Elizabeth Taylor / Right: Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe, 1962

famous art models
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe - Andy Warhol, 1986 / Right: Robert Mapplethorpe - Louise Bourgeois

Politicians and Leaders as Famous Art Models

The power of visual dialogue is unquestionable and it is present from the earliest periods of human creativity. It is so powerful that it is constantly used in the shaping of political thoughts. One of the most famous portraits in the visual history is Che Guevara's, almost unavoidable in any revolutionary movement. Nowadays, in the graffiti art, politicians have also became famous art models, as seen in the Iranian street art inspired by the revolutions. Some of the most famous street art portraits are seen in the works of Shepard Fairey, especially in the powerful images of the US president Barrack Obama, and his political counterpart George W. Bush.

famous art models
Left: Shepard Fairey - Obama Hope Poster / Right: Shepard Fairey - One Hell of a Leader

Intentions and Coincidendes

Whether some of the portraits were created intentionally to convey some message or they were a product of the closeness of the artists such as Lucian Freud and David Hockney, Eric Fischl and Chuck Close, we are left with a bone to chew on and to think about who made who or daydream about being one of their gang and a possible famous art model of theirs.

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All images are for illustrative purposes only.