American University Museum | A Drawing Like No Other Artist Talk with Billy Pappas

By East City Art Editorial Team on February 12, 2024
Billy Pappas, Marilyn Monroe (detail), 2003. Graphite on paper, 25 x 28 in. Courtesy of the artist. Digital image provided courtesy of William A. Christens-Barry, Chief Scientist, Equipoise Imaging, LLC.
Talk: Saturday, February 17 at 2pm

This exhibition is devoted to a drawing – its artist and his creative process – with a depth of resolution that guest curator Gary Vikan declares has “likely never before been achieved in the history of art.”

Its creator, Billy Pappas, a Baltimore native and graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, set out in 1994 to create the “apotheosis of naturalistic portraiture” and establish a new standard for drawing. Billy’s point of departure was a reproduction of Richard Avedon’s famous soft-focus portrait of Marilyn Monroe from 1957.

More than eight years and nearly nine million marks later, Billy completed this extraordinary work, using nothing more elaborate than standard drawing pencils and two sets of magnifiers. The drawing’s precision and detail are so profound, its visual data so rich and deep, that it required the narrow band multi-spectral imaging techniques developed by Bill Christens-Barry for imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls. As Charles Falco of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona remarked: “By incorporating 3-dimensional information from live models, Billy has arrived at his own solution to the fundamental limitation of the photograph.”

Learn about Billy Pappas’ creative process and the critical reception of this work, including his related encounter with David Hockney which became the subject of an award-winning documentary by Julie Checkoway, Waiting for Hockney. In his review of the film following its premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, Ben Davis of Artnet wrote: “Pappas has clearly done something, maybe even something great – you leave the film wanting to see the work in real life.”

American University Museum
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW