Elizabeth Short as Snow White series –A Smile 1, Marilyn Manson, 30 x 22 inches, Watercolor on paper

Elizabeth Short as Snow White series –A Smile 1, Marilyn Manson, 30 x 22 inches, Watercolor on paper

The Golden Age of Grotesque…Art?

Monday, December 8, 2014

 "This is my favorite part of the show. This is the famous story of Black Dahlia, who was found cut in half. The crime was never solved in the '40s. I've been obsessed with it since I was very young. (A smile I) is how she came to Hollywood, with hopes of becoming famous."

 The Golden Age of Grotesque…Art?

Marilyn Manson…singer, writer, director, composer, photographer, and watercolorist. For well over two decades, Manson has taken Hollywood by storm with his unique appearance and even more unique art. Manson’s art works have been likened to those of Egon Schiele, Gottfried Helnwein, Luis Bunuel, Dali, Bosch, Warhol, Mark Ryden, and Fellini and their influence is evident in his aesthetic. Manson’s art reflects a dark conflict between the beautiful and the grotesque as well as his vision of himself, events in history, and the world around him. He achieves this didactic balance through his technique of watercolors to depict dark and graphic imagery. The art is not meant to comfort, but to unsettle the viewer. 

At a young age he began to draw and paint and began working with watercolors in 1999. He created five-minute “concept pieces” and traded them for drugs, aware that they may accumulate in value over time. Gradually Manson became more drawn to watercolors as his primary media and kept painting at a proficient rate. This creativity led to eventually sharing his art with the public.

“I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, it was an escape for me. And it still is.”


The Golden Age of Grotesque (September 19-21, 2002) – Los Angeles, California.

Trismegistus (September 14-15, 2004) – Paris, France and Berlin, Germany.

The Celebritarian Corporation Gallery of Fine Art (October 31, 2006) – Los Angeles, California.

Les Fleurs du Mal (2007-2008) – Traveling exhibition – Florida, Germany, Brazil, Russia, Switzerland.

Trismegistus (2nd exhibition) (December 5, 2008-February 20, 2009) – Florida.

Hell, Etc. (2010) – Athens, Greece.

Genealogies of Pain (2010) – Vienna, Austria.

The Path of Misery (2011) – Mexico City, Mexico

Masquerade (2014) – Groninger Museum, Groningen, Netherlands

Marilyn Manson’s first exhibition, The Golden Age of Grotesque, was held at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions Centre between September 13-14 of 2002. The reaction to his paintings was largely positive with one critic comparing them to Egon Schele's works and describing them as heartfelt and sincerely painted.  Art in America went as far as to liken them to the works of a 'psychiatric patient given materials to use as therapy'. The Golden Age of Grotesque Exhibition featured both watercolor and mix media works produced in the late ‘90s to works Manson completed just four days before the opening.

 “I’m pointing out the interesting ways to take pretty colors and make grotesque images”.

Marilyn Manson’s consistent use of beauty and the grotesque is evident in the artworks throughout all of his subsequent exhibitions; however, there are several underlying themes he addresses. Like Salvador Dali before him, Manson utilizes a sense of irony and has created several works of art which mock Hitler and the Nazi movement. These watercolors depict both Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin to represent the irony of their iconic mustache style representing two very different historical figures. An example of such representation may be seen in his Die Deutsche Kampferin, which shows a Chaplin/Hitler hermaphrodite figure. Manson created several self-portraits, each with its unique style as they reflect different periods throughout the artist’s life. Elements of pop culture make frequent appearances in Manson’s work, executed with a twist. Icons such as Edgar Allen Poe, Salvador Dali, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and even Mickey Mouse make an appearance. However no series within Manson’s exhibitions made an impact as shocking, horrifying, and controversial as the one featuring The Black Dahlia.

In a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Marilyn Manson revealed his favorite part of the Golden Age of Grotesque exhibition to be the Elizabeth Short as Snow White series. The series features three portraits of Elizabeth Short, also known as The Black Dahlia, a victim of a gruesome murder on January 15, 1947 that still remains unsolved. The series represents Short’s Hollywood experience, arriving with “a smile” in the first watercolor and later depicting her gruesome demise. The series bears a strong testament to Manson’s consistent theme of conflict between beautiful and grotesque, political and ironic, as well as his vision of Hollywood.

“Painting is just you and a piece of paper, and no one can tell you the rules because there aren’t any.”






 —Alyssa Frijey





Alyssa Frijey currently holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Buffalo State College and returned to Buffalo State to pursue a M.A. in Museum Studies. After graduation, Frijey will pursue a museum career in Collections Management for historical objects.