Michael Jackson – A Closeted Artist










MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY, KIRSTIE ALLEYThis morning, I discovered Michael Jackson was an artist. I had read that his close friend, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, encouraged this Pop Star to collect art as she had done. Liz’s great uncle, Howard Young, had no children, and I believe he willed his amazing collection to her. Howard was married to Mabel Rosemond, the sister of Liz’s grandmother, Elizabeth Mary Rosemond. Add to this the marital union with the Getty and Benton family, and my families literary and artistic legacy, then here is the foremost Artistic Dynasty in the world, that rivals what the Habsburgs and de Medici achieved in many generations.

In 1987, my aunt and uncle, June and Vincent Rice, left most of their kindred a half million dollars in a Trust. With my portion I have been able to concentrate on my long genealogical and historic research that has established my kindred in the annals of Art History. June and Vincent did not know we were kin to Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor. Their desire was to enhance and esteem all members of their family, something I have done, thus I have acted in good faith to their generous Trust.

There can be no doubt who the ‘Caretaker’ of Christine Rosamond’s creative legacy is. Regrettably, there are dark forces fighting over Michael’s art the same way they fought over the art of my late sister.

In looking at Michael’s art, I get a true idea of what his dream was. I believe he wanted to be like Walt Disney. His drawing of George Washington, the Wright Brother’s plane, and the White House, suggest a Disney theme of America – and all that is good and democratic.

Like my Janke kindred, Michael built his own theme park, a Never Never Land where the youth he – and Liz – never had, could be set free. Liz is kin to the artist Thomas Hart Benton, whose paintings are The American Landscape that Walt captured just a part of in his fantasies. Howard Young was a good friend of President Eisenhower. Most artists are patriots.

Christine and I had our childhood taken from us too. Vic put his to sons to work in his produce market when we were eight and nine. Christine was the maid when she was twelve. June and Vinny had no children. Vinny was my art patron. He wrote for the UCLA college paper. He would be very proud of what I have done.

Thanksgiving Day has just commenced. I will be having my Creative Comrades over – in spirit! We will look over each other’s shoulders while we create, and be joyful!

Jon Presco



Ken Burns’ “America: Thomas Hart Benton” paints a portrait of a hard-working, hard-drinking man full of contradictions. Born into a political family, he was named after his famous great-uncle, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, champion of Manifest Destiny. Benton’s father was a U.S. Congressman who wanted his son to follow in the family footsteps to become a lawyer and a politician. But from an early age Benton wanted to be an artist and later said of his father, “that I should even think of becoming an artist gave him a sense of outrage. It would never do for a Benton to descend so low.”

“To Garth with appreciation of your wonderful assistance and with warmest, best wishes.”
– Betty and Gerald Ford

“What a joy to have your murals!”
– Bob and Dolores Hope

“Your work is truly fine, and you go above and beyond the call of duty. So when you present your final bill to me, make it for whatever you like…within reason, of course.”
– Barbra Streisand

“To master artist Garth Benton, and his two talented daughters, and with gratitude for your beautiful additon to our new home.”
– Rhonda “Mann” Flemming

(Partial List)
Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hope
Pres. and Mrs. Gerald Ford
Ms. Barbra Streisand
Mr. Sidney Sheldon
HRH Prince Saud Al Faisal
Ms. Carol Burnett
Mr. and Mrs. David L. Wolper
Ms. Jaclyn Smith
The J.Paul Getty Museum
M.H. De Young Memorial Museum
Mr. Danny Kaye
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Singleton
Mr. And Mrs. Mickey Rudin
Mr. Dean Martin
Mr. Hugh Hefner
Fluor Corporation
Ralph M. Parsons Company
Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Firestone
The Beverly Hilton Hotel
Squaw Valley Inn
Mr. Richard Cohen
Lily and Richard Zanuck
Mr. and Mrs. George Doheny
Princess of Iran
Ms. Polly Bergen
Mrs. Walt Disney
Ms. Pamela Mason
Mr. and Mrs. Jim Knight
Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Spelling
Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Douglas
Mr. Jerry Magnin
Mr. and Mrs. Warren Clark
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Maguire
Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Resnick
Ms. Danielle Steel
Mr. David Nutt, Esq.

Closeted Artist

Until now, Michael Jackson’s art collection was shrouded in mystery. It was said to be stuck in a legal dispute over possession. Then, people speculated that buyers such as Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté were interested. It’s been valued at the staggering (and slightly unbelievable) sum of $900 million.

“Then we met, and spent more and more time with each other, and just became really good friends. Told each other everything,” Taylor said in 2006.
They bonded over their “horrible” childhoods, which she said was destroyed by becoming famous as kids. Indeed, Taylor achieved fame at age 12 in National Velvet, Jackson began his career at the age of 5 as the lead singer of the Jackson 5.

One crucial fact: Jackson’s art collection isn’t art by other people — it’s mainly drawings and paintings that he created himself. So what does that art look like?

Yesterday, LA Weekly was the first to visit the (until now) top-secret Santa Monica Airport hangar that Jackson used as his studio and art storehouse. The collection is currently owned by Brett-Livingstone Strong, the Australian monument builder and Jackson’s art mentor through the years, in conjunction with the Jackson estate.

Though the entire art collection has been mired in disputes and battles for rights, Strong claims that he is working with everybody — the family, the estate, as well as others — to exhibit and publish as much of Jackson’s work as possible.

According to Strong, he and Jackson formed an incorporated business partnership in 1989, known as the Jackson-Strong alliance. This gave each partner a fifty-percent stake in the other’s art. In 2008, Strong says, Jackson requested that his attorney sign the rights to Jackson’s portion of the art over to Strong. Now, Strong is beginning to reveal more and more of the art as he goes ahead with Jackson’s dream of organizing a museum exhibit.

Shannon Cottrell
Some of Jackson’s original drawings hanging on the wall. Prints of these were donated to the L.A. Children’s Hospital.

Strong gave us a tour of the hangar, beginning with the Michael Jackson monument that Strong and Jackson co-designed several years ago. It’s perhaps bombastic, but designed with good intentions and the rabid Jackson fan in mind. Strong explains, “He wanted his fans to be able to get married at a monument that would have all of his music [in an archive, and playing on speakers], to inspire some of his fans.”

The current design is still in the works, but it’s conceived as an interactive monument — fans who buy a print by Jackson will receive a card in the mail. They can scan this card at the monument, and then have a computer organize a personal greeting for them, or allow them to book it for weddings. Jackson initially thought it would be perfect for Las Vegas, but Strong says that Los Angeles might have the honor of hosting it — apparently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently paid a visit and made a few oblique promises.

Shannon Cottrell
The Michael Jackson monument mock-up, featuring miniature pilgrims and a bridal couple

As for Jackson’s art, the contents of the hangar barely scratched the surface of the collection, as Strong estimates Jackson’s total output at 150 to 160 pieces. A few large pieces hanging on the walls had been donated as reproductions to the L.A. Children’s Hospital last Monday, along with other sketches and poems.

Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley may be dead, but they’re still making a hell of a lot more money than most people living! Forbes has released the annual report of the world’s top-earning celebrities and along with Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, all of the people mentioned above are in the top five. The big news is that Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away in March of 2011, has amassed enough wealth this year to dethrone the King of Pop after two years on top. Taylor’s estate has accumulated $210 million in 2012, while MJ only brought in a measly $145 million. There’s a good chance he’ll be back on top next year though. He owns 50% of the Sony/ATV publishing catalog, which will provide income for years to come. Taylor, on the other hand, received a $184 million bump this year from a London auction of her jewelry and art. Here’s the entire dead celeb line-up with how much money they’ve made over the last 12 months: 1. Elizabeth Taylor – $210 million 2. Michael Jackson – $145 million 3. Elvis Presley – $55 million 4. Charles Schultz – $37 million 5. Bob Marley – $17 million 6. John Lennon – $12 million 7. Marilyn Monroe – $10 million 8. Albert Einstein – $10 million 9. Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Suess) – $9 million 10. Steve McQueen – $8 million 11. Bettie Page – $8 million 12. Richard Rogers (song writer) – $6 million 13. George Harrison – $5.5 million – See more at: http://perezhilton.com/2012-10-26-elizabeth-taylor-michael-jackson-top-earning-dead-celebrities#sthash.4TmokXYL.dpuf

But Jackson also created portraits: a small sketch of Paul McCartney, and a large drawing of George Washington, created as Strong was working with the White House to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution back in 1987. He also sketched self-portraits — one as a humorous four-panel drawing charting his growing-up process, and a darker one that depicts him as a child cowering in a corner, inscribed with a sentence reflecting on his fragility.

As an artist, Jackson preferred using wax pencils, though Strong adds, “He did do a lot of watercolors but he gave them away. He was a little intimidated by mixing colors.” Some surviving pencils are archived in the hangar; Strong moves over to a cabinet on the far wall of the hangar and pulls out a ziploc bag containing a blue wax pencil, a white feathered quill and a white glove that Jackson used for drawing.
Jackson turned to art as times got hard for him. “His interest in art, in drawing it, was just another level of his creativity that went on over a long period of time,” Strong says. “It was quite private to him. I think he retreated into it when he was being attacked by those accusations against him.” The sketches and drawings certainly reveal an extremely sensitive creator, though it’s clear that Jackson also had a sense of humor.
Jackson’s art was kept under wraps for such a long time simply because of the pedophilia scandal, which erupted right around the time that he was looking for a way to publicize the works. “A lot of his art was going to be exhibited 18 years ago. Here’s one of his tour books, where he talks about exhibiting art. He didn’t want it to be a secret,” Strong says, pointing at a leaflet from the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.

Shannon Cottrell
Strong and Jackson wearing matching leather and velvet jackets, celebrating their artistic alliance.
Prior to that period, Jackson and Strong had met and become fast friends. This marked the beginning of Strong’s mentorship, in which he encouraged Jackson to create bigger paintings and drawings, and exhibit his work. The idea behind their Jackson-Strong Alliance was that Strong would help Jackson manage and exhibit his art. Notably, the alliance birthed Strong’s infamous $2 million portrait of Michael Jackson entitled The Book, the only known portrait Jackson ever sat for.
In 1993, everything blew up. At the time, Jackson and Strong were both on the board of Big Brothers of Los Angeles (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters), a chapter of the national youth mentoring organization established in L.A. by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson. They had planned out a fundraising campaign involving Jackson’s art. Strong explains, “We thought that if we would market [his art] in limited edition prints to his fans, he could support the charities that he wanted to, rather than have everybody think that he was so wealthy he could afford to finance everybody.” When the pedophilia scandal erupted, Disney put a freeze on the project. The artwork stayed put, packed away from public eyes in storage crates.

Jackson’s sketch of the White House doors, to which he added the following quote from John Adams: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men [MJ’s addition:] or women rule under this roof.”
We’ll leave you with Strong’s own description of Jackson at work, during the time where they shared a studio in a house in Pacific Palisades:
He was in a very light and happy mood most of the time. He would have the oldies on, and sometimes he’d hear some of his Jackson Five songs. He’d kind of move along to that, but most of the time he would change it and listen to a variety of songs. He liked classical music. His inspiration to create was that he loved life, and wanted to express his love of life in some of these simple compositions.
I came to the studio one day, and we had a Malamute. I came into the house, and I heard this dog barking and thought, Wow, I wonder what that is. I go into the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I see Michael up in the pots and pans in the middle of the center island. He’s holding a pen and paper and the dog is running around the island and barking at him, and he says, “He wants to play! He wants to play!” He’s laughing, and I’m laughing about it as I’m thinking to myself, “I’m wondering how long he’s been up there.”


Dame Elizabeth’s “love affair with jewelry” has often overshadowed her equally magnificent collection of Impressionist art. Incredibly rare paintings by Picasso, Utrillo, Degas, Rouault, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Modigliani, Vlaminck, van Gogh, Frans Hals, Matisse, Cézanne, Cassatt, Rembrandt, Erté and Frans Hals have all hung on the walls of Dame Elizabeth’s grand homes, on land or at sea.

http://dameelizabethtaylor.com/photos/albums/userpics/10001/scan0119.jpgElizabeth grew up with an understanding and appreciation for fine art. Her father, Francis Taylor, was an art dealer with a gallery located at 35 Old Bond Street in London. He learned the business under the tutelage of his uncle, Howard Young. After relocating with his family to sunny California during the war, Francis opened an art gallery at the Château Elysée, but quickly relocated it to the more impressive Beverly Hills Hotel. It was at that location that such celebrities as Howard Duff, Vincent Price, James Mason, Alan Ladd, Hedda Hopper, and Greta Garbo could be found selecting art for their own collections. Francis Taylor was also a trendsetter; responsible for the popularity of Augustus John in the United States. Francis, who had a keen eye, asked John if he could buy some of the paintings John had discarded. John felt they weren’t good enough to sell, and gave them to Francis free of charge. They were sold back at the art gallery in the States, where Augustus John paintings would be sold exclusively for many years. Francis would soon find an art connoisseur in his daughter, Elizabeth, who would amass one of the great private collections of Impressionist art in America.

One of her first big pieces was one by Frans Hals, given to by Francis on the occasion of her marriage to Nicky Hilton. Elizabeth owns several other Hals, including “Portrait of a Man”.

Elizabeth’s collection of art, like her collection of jewelry, grew during her brief but passionate marriage to the great Mike Todd. During this time, Todd, who was also an art connoisseur, purchased painting by Degas, Utrillo, and Vuillar from the collection of Aly Khan for a reported cost of $71,428. “They’ll think I’m crazy when they hear about this in Hollywood,” Todd joked. “Paying that much for pictures that don’t even move.” Once, while Elizabeth was hospitalized, Todd decorated the walls of her sterile hospital room with paintings by Renoir, Pissarro, and Monet (Todd even unintentionally punctured the Van Gogh with a pencil, but Elizabeth’s uncle, Howard Young, was able to mend it). “He knew how much I loved paintings. He loved paintings, too, but instead of buying himself the paintings, he’d buy them for me,” Elizabeth remembered. The Todds were generous with their collection; even loaning pieces to the Los Angeles County Art Museum.

Elizabeth continued to collect valuable art during her marriage to Richard Burton, and they together acquired many fabulous paintings. Bidding on behalf of his daughter, Francis Taylor purchased Vincent van Gogh’s “Lunatic Asylum, St. Remy” at Sotheby’s (and as a belated birthday present, Francis Taylor purchased for Elizabeth a Utrillo at the same auction). The painting, which was being sold from the collection of Alfred Woolf, was auctioned for £92,000. She would later try (unsuccessfully) to part with the painting for $20 million.

Elizabeth once described her home as “such a cozy, sweet place with bits and pieces around—bits and pieces of Renoir—and, you know, things that make it homey.” All joking aside, like the joy her famous collection of jewelry has brought her, Elizabeth’s paintings serve as memories of incredible times from a bygone era, and the loved ones she shared them with.

Francis Taylor (December 28, 1897 – November 20, 1968) was an American art dealer and father of the actress Elizabeth Taylor.
He was born Francis Lenn Taylor in Springfield, Illinois, the son of Francis Marion Taylor (1860–1946) and Elizabeth Mary Rosemond (1869–1937). The family later moved to Arkansas City, Kansas.
Francis began dealing in art in New York City for a wealthy in-law, Howard Young.[citation needed]
Taylor married stage actress Sara Sothern (whose real name was Sara Viola Warmbrodt and was also from Arkansas City) in 1926 in New York.[citation needed] They were the parents of Howard Taylor (born 1929) and Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011), who became a famous movie actress.
Within a few years of his marriage, Taylor was transferred to Young’s art gallery in London, England, where he and Sara lived several years, and where their children were born. At the outbreak of Britain’s involvement in World War II, they returned to the United States.
Taylor later ran an art gallery in Beverly Hills, California.[citation needed]
He died at age 70 in Los Angeles, California. He is interred beside his widow in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, California.[1]

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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