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Michael Jackson portrait puts the tin in Tinseltown: pop cans, Pop art 'King of Pop'

June 24, 2010 |  4:50 pm

Michael-Jackson-Pop-Can-Art By now, hundreds of thousands of viewers have seen Jeff Koons' "Michael Jackson and Bubbles," the gilded porcelain life-size sculpture of the King of Pop and his beloved chimpanzee that has been on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Broad Contemporary Art Museum since it opened more than two years ago.

Now comes Michael Jackson without bubbles, thanks to Sunland artist Seaton Brown, who has created a 144-square-foot portrait of the King of Pop out of 1,680 empty soda pop cans -- the contents, bubbles included, having gone down the drain because, as the artist tells Culture Monster, "I don't really drink soda."

His piece, "A Tribute to the King of Pop," will be on display Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown's Pershing Square, acknowledging the anniversary Friday of Jackson's death as part of the annual "Art Squared" exhibition co-sponsored by the city's Recreation and Parks department and the Downtown L.A. Art Project.

Brown, like Koons, picked the "Thriller"-era Jackson, before repeated cosmetic surgery completely reconfigured his face. Normally, the 40-year-old artist says, he's a traditionalist who doesn't dabble in Pop art or alternate media, earning his living from oil paintings and as a freelance illustrator and designer.

But an online image of a rendition of Leonardo's "The Last Supper" that Toronto artists made from more than 4,000 Rubik's Cubes got Brown thinking about doing something comparable; Chuck Close's pointillistic self-portraits entered his thinking, as did a trip down a supermarket aisle in which he was struck by the sheer abundance of color in soda cans.

Brown mulled doing an aluminum portrait of George Washington, but when Jackson died, he was on his way: Pop as a style, pop cans as a medium, the King of Pop as an honoree. He says about 20% of his raw materials were empties he bought from a recycling station; for the rest he paid retail, spending, he estimates, about $600 on soda cans both empty and full, and about $400 on other materials. The tricky part, he says, was finding good skin tones. The solution: the cream, root beer and cherry vanilla flavors of Whole Foods' house brand.

"A Tribute to the King of Pop" was finished in January -- "it was a full-time job for about five weeks," Brown says -- and was first seen in March at the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk.  

This video shows how it was done.

-- Mike Boehm


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Photo: Artist Seaton Brown and his 144-square-foot pop can portrait, "A Tribute to the King of Pop." Credit: Seaton Brown.