By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
"Joni Mabe's Traveling Panoramic Encyclopedia of
Everything Elvis" (that's just part of it, above) indulges
the artist's obsession with The King. Below, Laila Twigg-Smith's
"Heartache" is one-half soft pink and one-half
broken Elvis collector plates.

Glamour, glitz and glory

'Elvis + Marilyn' celebrates
two icons of American popular culture

By Burl Burlingame

In the very early days of art, the icon you drew was something you wanted to eat, like a prehistoric bison. Later, it was something you worshiped, like Buddha or the Virgin Mary. Nowadays, larger-than-life icons are something that appeals to a different instinct entirely.

While Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe haven't yet become transcendent deities, they do glow pretty brightly on the scrim of popular culture. The road show "Elvis + Marilyn: 2 X Immortal" that opens today at the Honolulu Academy of Arts demonstrates how the mystique of personality can affect fine art.

The show has more than 110 works of art relating somehow to these two icons of American 20th-century glamour. The show also includes recent pieces by Honolulu artists and an amazing collection of Elvisiana called "Joni Mabe's Traveling Panoramic Encyclopedia of Everything Elvis."

"On the day Elvis died, I became obsessed," said Mabes, an artist who hails from Georgia (imagine a couple extra syllables in each word of her quotes). "I never listened to Elvis; I was a Lynard Skynard gal. But on the day he died, I was washing my Scout -- a job that lasts all day -- and they played nothing but Elvis on the radio.

"It was a tribute. But I had no idea he recorded so many different types of music. And his voice -- his voice got to me. I wanted some Elvis art, but there was no Elvis art in the '70s. Just the Warhol prints and some stuff on black velvet. So I made my own."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Laila Twigg-Smith's "Heartache" is one-half soft pink
and one-half broken Elvis collector plates.

Mabes began to collect as well. Now her Panorama completely takes over whatever room it's given on the tour, and either causes gasps of delight or horror. "Oh, many people come two or three times, and then they bring their friends," said Mabes.

With local artist Laila Twigg-Smith, the obsession started earlier. "Elvis was a HUGE influence on my life," she said. "I was a refugee from Europe and I came to America at age 8, and Elvis personified America. I even had his pictures on my ceiling so his face was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep."

Her piece is a broken heart; one side satiny and pink and fluffy, the other dark and jagged, with shattered Elvis collector plates scattered across it like pieces of planets. "It was so cathartic to break up those plates," said Twigg-Smith. "I'd been collecting them a long time; it took this long for the grief to fade.

"All of our icons should die when they're young. Otherwise, they screw up our young dreams when we realize they're human after all."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
This section of Joni Mabe's "The Elvis Playpen w/Einstein
and Jesus Walking on the Water" is reminiscent
of an oriental religious shrine to "the king."

Activities go beyond exhibit

"Elvis + Marilyn: 2 x IMMORTAL" opens today and runs through June 8 at the Academy of Arts. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 :30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 532-8700.

Related events at the academy:

"Everything Elvis: Joni Mabe's Traveling Panoramic Encyclopedia": Elvis relics, memorabilia, imagery, souvenirs and Mabe's art, on view through June 15. Mabe discusses her work, 7:30 p.m. today. Free.

Family day: 1 to 5 p.m. April 20. Puppet-making workshop and 16-foot-tall, 35-pound puppets of Elvis and Marilyn. Admission: $1.

Sock hop:5:30-8:30 p.m. April 25. Appearances by Elvis and Marilyn impersonators. Prizes for best '50s costumes. Admission: $2-$4.

"Marilyn Monroe in Story, Scene, and Scenery": Lecture by Joseph Stanton, director, UH-Manoa Center for Arts and Humanities, 7:30 p.m. April 24.

More lectures:Floyd Matson, UH-Manoa American Studies professor, speaks on "Marilyn Monroe: A Critical Appreciation," 7:30 p.m. May 1; and "Moving Image: The Films of Elvis Presley," 7:30 p.m. May 15.

"Is Pop Culture the Future of American Culture?": Dennie Barrie, ex-director, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, speaks, 5:30 p.m. May 8.

Movies: Films starring or about Elvis and/or Marilyn show for the length of the exhibit. They include "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Hawaii," "How To Marry A Millionaire," "Flaming Star," "All About Eve," "Marilyn," "The Seven Year Itch," "Some Like It Hot," "Let's Make Love," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Admission $3-$5. Call for schedule.

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