A bright red book emblazoned with gold type exclaiming “MICHAEL JACKSON” is like the art publication version of click-bait. Michael Jackson and Other Men is a collection of drawings by artist Dawn Mellor, produced when she was a teenager and she was really, really into Michael Jackson. “However commonplace these kind of adolescent drawings might be, they are a precursor to Dawn’s concern with celebrity and fan culture; also functioning as subjective social documents,” say Studio Voltaire, who published the title. “There is something endearing, and somewhat pathetic, about the Jackson drawings – both as a reminder of a tragic cultural icon and the indication of the burgeoning sexuality and artistic ambition of the young artist.”
The drawings are incredible – they’re a paean to anyone who ever lay on their bellies in front of the telly sketching their current icons or heartthrobs as a passionate teen. However Dawn’s drawings also feature an underlying darkness, a burgeoning recognition and curiosity with social unrest and African-American culture. Anyone who never thought they would find an amateur sketch of Bill Cosby unsettling is going to be surprised. We asked Joe Scotland, the director of Studio Voltaire, about how this extraordinary publication came about.
“We had worked with Dawn on a number of exhibitions and commissions at the gallery and offsite, she also had a studio with us for a number of years. I first saw a few of the drawings when she had made a little book of photocopied versions for my birthday. There was something really incredible about them,” he told us.
“We were thinking about showing them in London, but decided doing a publication was more interesting. We had already exhibited them twice – and liked the idea of doing a strange book – almost like one of those Smash Hits annuals…”
“Studio Voltaire had been invited to do a project a White Columns, New York and Galerie Micky Schubert in Berlin, and it felt like a good opportunity to show selections of them. Just by coincidence Michael Jackson died a week or so before we showed them in Berlin, so the show ended up being weirdly timely. Quite a few people thought that Dawn had just made them in a faux-naive style especially, which isn’t the case – they really were genuinely produced when she was a teenager in the 1980s. We were thinking about showing them in London, but decided doing a publication was more interesting. We had already exhibited them twice – and liked the idea of doing a strange book – almost like one of those Smash Hits annuals…”
You can buy your own copy of Dawn Mellor’s Michael Jackson and Other Men over here.
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