“Fame doesn't fulfil you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary,” the iconic Marilyn Monroe once said about her time in the spotlight. It’s an apt quote for British-American artist Russell Young’s latest Maddox Gallery exhibition, Dreamland, which examines the lingering darkness of fame behind the bright lights of its glitzy facade.

Monroe is but one of Young’s subjects. The icon is joined by a cast of the most famous faces on the planet – Brigitte Bardot, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Kate Moss – whom the artist frames in his own definitive style. However, it’s through the pop culture icon that his fascination with the tragic celebrity comes sharply into focus.

After all, there are few figures in the history of American celebritydom who have grappled with their image quite like the prototypical blonde bombshell. Under the gaze of the world media, Monroe struggled to balance her diminishing personal life as her manufactured public persona rose to its zenith – the two sides of her character blurring at the edges before her untimely demise in 1962.

In Marilyn Crying, a gorgeous large-scale image of Marilyn Monroe with a hand delicately wiping away tears, Young zeroes in on his subject to reveal deeper meaning.

“I worked very closely with the Marilyn Monroe estate on this image. She had just got divorced from Joe DiMaggio and the original photograph shows the paparazzi reporters all around her,” he told Maddox’s Artistic Director, Maeve Doyle, “My piece focuses on only 10% of the image, if not less, so it’s just her and her gestures. It’s the perfect mix of emotions for me to explore as an artist – she’s so beautiful, yet so sad.”

It’s the perfect mix of emotions for me to explore as an artist – she’s so beautiful, yet so sad

Outside of the frame is a circus of lawyers and paparazzi, but the focus on Monroe’s features reveals an isolated figure lost in the chaos of it all. It’s a sad but all-too frequent allegory of the American Dream; a sham that Young intends to expose.

For the Yorkshire-born artist best known for his large-scale silkscreen paintings, the nature of fame has been an ever-present study since he first photographed the biggest names in music in the 1970s. His own rise to prominence was marked by his photography of George Michael for the sleeve of his 1987 album ‘Faith’, but Young’s current practice began with his 2003 ‘Pig Portraits’ show in Los Angeles.

Russell Young artistic process in Los Angeles
Russell Young artistic process in Los Angeles
Russell Young artistic process in Los Angeles
Russell Young artistic process in Los Angeles

Young’s art begins with a series of fascinating images of the past – for this exhibition, the work of legendary photographers Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz – which he appropriates and alters in his own inimitable style. Hand pulled on canvas or linen using a Warholian silkscreen printing technique, the images are composed of paints mixed by the artist himself from pigments he has gathered from all over the world.

Often utilising the sun-drenched colours of California, each impression of a given work is a unique piece, with the quality and quantity of the layers of paint, and the application of diamond dust, differing for every piece. It’s a beautifully visceral, analogue process that has brought Young widespread acclaim.

His work has been exhibited across the world in numerous galleries, as well as featuring in the collections of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and David Hockney, alongside institutions such as The Getty Collection in Los Angeles and The White House Collection in Washington DC, but for now Young’s art is available to view at Maddox’s brand-new gallery on Berkeley Street in Mayfair.

Russell Young: Dreamland is at Maddox Gallery, Berkeley Street, until 7 February. For more information, see maddoxgallery.com