Born in Manchester in 1970, artist Dawn Mellor is best known for her portraits of celebrities in various tortured guises – Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly as a coffee-clutching zombie in pearls, Morrissey impaled by paintbrushes, Karl Lagerfeld crawling in cockroaches... Her intention isn’t to satirize or attack celebrity, but rather the obsessive fans and toxic bloggers whose appetites can never be sated.

Mellor studied at the Royal College of Art and won second prize in the prestigious BP Portrait Prize with her painting of a young Jilly Cooper, which led to her first solo show at London’s Mall Galleries. Her work is celebrated for its dark humour and uncompromising approach to deconstructing fame, gender and sexuality.

Dawn Mellor is represented by Studio Voltaire and has exhibited at New York’s Team Gallery, Galerie Gabriel Rolt in Amsterdam, Victoria Miro gallery in London and the Prague Biennale among others.

Our print, Michael Jackson, 1985/2011 comes from Michael Jackson and Other Men - a book of Mellor’s teenage sketches of celebrities from the 1980s. Before the Michael Jackson drawings Mellor says she drew hundreds of Disney characters in felt-tip, while Madonna was another favourite subject. In this early work we can see the roots of Mellor’s fascination with pop culture and how observing a subject so closely can lead to greater self-realisation.

 

Curator Francesca Gavin says “I love this piece! It’s one of my favourite pieces in the collection and I’ve used it numerous times. It’s hanging at High Road House, it’s hanging in Chicago, it’s hanging in Shoreditch House. Dawn Mellor was obsessed with Michael Jackson as a teenager and had done tons of fan portraits of him. Later, as an artist, she went through her archives and brought out her teen pictures and published them as a book and this was an edition made [from that book]. So she made this as a younger version of herself.

I’m a massive fan of Michael, I also really love that adoration of the fan imagery - I find it really interesting – it’s something we can all connect to. And that slight naivety which comes when you’re really obsessed with something, I find that really genuine. She’s an amazing painter who fuses a lot of pop imagery with a kind of 'gothic-ness', there’s often a kind of violence to what she does.

We’ve got something of hers hanging in the Electric too. But this piece is an edition that keeps on giving! I can’t believe that it’s still available! It’s the perfect period of Michael – his Thriller period I believe – which is Michael at his most classic. And I really like that idea that what you like as a teenager forms you. It’s one of the works that I think really typifies our approach to the collection – the balance of humour and historical importance to it. It’s something that people who aren’t even remotely into art can connect to. It fits everywhere. Michael just fits!”

Soho House Chicago

A hotel and members' club in the Fulton Market district