May 10, 2005
There's a secret Marilyn Monroe shrine on the South Side of St. Louis City. It's on one of the busiest streets near one of the very busiest intersections (3723 South Kingshighway, 63109 for Mapquest purposes), and even though countless cars pass by 24 hours a day, no one notices an ever-revolving series of paintings in an abandoned storefront window.
I first saw it the summer of 2003. While stuck in gnarly traffic, a swirl of psychedelic pastel colors caught the corner of my eye, and there was Marilyn blossoming brightly within a sea of blackness. To verify what I saw, I investigated on foot a few days later.
This side of the street still retains its very early 20th century urban mass; shop fronts at ground level with apartments above. Marilyn was next to a corner tavern, encased in a display window painted flat black, with black curtains blocking any view into the shop, and one fake tree for ambience. There was no display lighting, dust covered all surfaces, and a small bullet hole pocked the glass near dead center of Marilyn's viewing area.
The painting was florid and evocative on its own, while its odd display made it captivating. Even though I stood on the sidewalk of a mad street, the loud sounds of traffic pounding behind, I felt magically isolated in another's adulation.
There was no signature on the painting, and nothing to indicate if it was for sale. Who was the artist? Why is it here? Does he /she live upstairs, in that room behind the zebra-stripe curtains? I took pictures to show other South Siders what we'd been overlooking, and looked forward to visiting Secret Marilyn every time I drove by.
Then a new Marilyn painting appeared! Turns out this space was the quietest art gallery in the city, and save for a brief portrait of Maria Callas, was dedicated solely to Marilyn Monroe. Fine artists usually work themselves raw for recognition, trying to attract gallery interest to attract patrons. But here was an artist who tucked their work into the background of urban chaos, loyal to the muse, silently consistent and seemingly content to pick up distant, random patrons.
Were these paintings for sale? Does one push a note through the store door's mail slot, hoping the artist finds it and contacts you? Or are they not for sale, just for love? When they place a new painting, where does the old one go? And, for the 25th time, who is this person?!
Finally, in the bottom corner of "Marilyn in Tears" (I name each one for documentation purposes) was a name!!
A Google search gave up Janis Joplin, and the artist's very own website! It answered some of my questions about the artist and his muse, but brought up new questions to add to the unanswered pile.
For instance, why doesn't he sell them? The first painting that I noticed - plus subsequent works - had been floating in his collection for years. Does he still paint? And while he used to actively show, what's the story behind this current form of solitary display?
While he's had relatively few visits to his site, someone is still paying the hosting fees. Since he listed it, I e-mailed him. I never got an error message, or a response. All signs indicate he doesn't want to be bothered, so I won't. But my final question is: Do I love the mystery behind the Marilyn paintings, or the work itself?
Along with the anticipation of each new Marilyn in the window, I admired the work because of the unceasing dedication that propelled it. Now that I know some back-story, I love the work. Kabbaz quietly carrying the torch for Marilyn is no different than Joe DiMaggio consistently sending roses to Marilyn's grave while he was alive. Both men courted public attention because of her, but ultimately eschewed the spotlight to preserve their bond with her. Rather than another artist milking the iconic aspects of, Kabbaz appears to truly and deeply love Marilyn, which makes his some of the most genuine art I've ever seen.
Posted by tobyweiss.com at 10:55 AM