Research Projects

9th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum

Best Presentation Award-9th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum

“When You’re Dead You’re Made”: Painting Idols of the 27 Club

Macon St. Hilaire*, Dr. Tamara Smithers, Department of Art, Austin Peay State University


The musicians, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse, each died at the age of twenty-seven constructing the 27 Club Myth. While mysteries and unanswered questions surround the tragic deaths of the 27 Club members, their legacies remain shrouded in reverence for their past greatness and unfulfilled future. Then and today, their music guides the listener in a spiritual experience similar to the way parables of saints instructed Christian devotees in life during the Middle Ages through the use of iconographic images. The icons of martyrs illustrated the miraculous qualities attributed to them passed down through generations, the legacy indistinguishable from history and faith. Parallels between the religious veneration of martyrs and the popular cultural worship of famous musicians led me to paint them in the style of Byzantine and medieval icon panel paintings.

Moreover, my interest in art historical conservation led me to study the methods and materials that medieval artists used to create their sacred images. My interdisciplinary painting and research project is the result of many influences: notably studying Cennino Cennini’s Renaissance artists’ handbook of c. 1400 which discusses historical egg-tempera panel painting techniques, viewing original icons first hand while studying abroad in London, and experimenting through my own creative studio art practices. To paint the modern icons, I sought found materials that are readily available in my environment that would achieve similar results as the methods utilized in the creation of medieval icons. I first created wood panels using reclaimed fence boards, store-bought gelatin packets and created a mixture of egg yolk and Kool-aid drink mix replacing the historical painting materials of rabbit glue and ground mineral pigments. As a visual artist, this project explores both my personal struggle and dissatisfaction with the societal pressure of success as well as my questions about fame and cultural immortality. By personifying the sanctity of these musicians, I have created a lasting visual memorial. As Jimi Hendrix aid, “When you’re dead you’re made.” One may achieve the recognition one seeks in life after death but the irony is not being there to witness it.

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