This Is It.


“It” didn’t sell at last month’s auction, so maybe you still wanna try and pick “it” up: Artist Michael Whelan’s original acrylic painting, above, for the Jacksons’ famed 1984 work, Victory.

jacksons-victoryThe only album that the six Jackson brothers ever recorded as one group, Victory‘s well-known art, right, depicts the siblings posed on an empty desert road that, as it recedes into the distance, rises and disappears into a luminous spiral galaxy filling the night sky. As the auction catalog notes say,

Michael Jackson chose Michael Whelan to paint the cover of the The Jacksons’ album, Victory, after seeing his painting for the cover of Isaac Asimov’s book, Foundation’s Edge. The galaxy in that image was what drew Jackson to Whelan’s work and he wanted a similar effect for the album painting. Whelan was given very specific instructions regarding the poses and positioning of the Jackson brothers as they would appear in the scene. At Michael Jackson’s request, Whelan positioned Michael behind his brothers but made his trademark glowing glove and socks shine forth. Accomplished in acrylic on watercolor board, it measures 20 ½ x 38 in. Except for occasional showings, the work hung in Whelan’s studio since its creation. Includes a LOA [letter of authenticity] from Michael Whelan.

As a local paper noted upon Michael Jackson’s June 2009 death, the Danbury CT painter had profound recollections of going to L.A. to show the family the work-in-progress. Arriving at the airport,

there was a limo waiting to whisk them to the recording studio to meet the Jacksons.

a-jackson-victory-tour1What the Whelans remember about the studio was just how huge the Jackson empire entourage was. Each of the brothers had a lawyer present. Epic Records had a lawyer on hand. Columbia Records, Epic’s parent company, had its own lawyer there.

In this sea of expensive hangers-on, they remembered Jackson as being terrific.

“He treated us warmly and generously and without a bit of phoniness,” Michael Whelan said.  “He talked to Alexa about her Cabbage Patch doll,” Audrey Whelan said. “We were all vegetarians, and I remember talking about how hard it is to go to some banquet and get a huge slab of prime rib on your plate.”

The Whelans spent about 10 days in Los Angeles — long enough for Michael Whelan to capture the look of the Jackson brothers’ faces before returning to Connecticut to finish his work.

Whelan still has the art director’s notes about the cover — mostly about the clothing the six brothers should be wearing. They ended up performing in outfits modeled on those in the painting.

The Whelans said Tuesday that because Jackson was so quiet and decent with them, they always had trouble listening to talk about the later, much-weirder version of the pop star.

whelan2-19-08-2Twenty-two years earlier, though, Whelan’s memories of the entire process were a bit more raw. According to the blog A Distant Soil, in the summer 1987 edition of American Fantasy magazine, right,

Whelan said: “The unfortunate thing was that so many people around them had their own ideas about what the painting should look like that my ideas of what it should be got lost in the shuffle. You can add to the fact that fifty percent of the painting was executed on a stove in an apartment in Hollywood in very hot weather, under adverse circumstances…by the time I figured attorney’s fees, how much time I spent on it and the aggravations, I probably made as much on an hourly basis as I would’ve received for a regular commission.”

Whelan reserves most of his disattisfaction for the record company who “…were constantly trying to get me to get my price down, telling me they had illustrators lining up on the street outside to do this job for free and I’m ripping them off and do I realize all the jobs I’m going to get as a result of doing this Jackson over? Well, I have to laugh because I didn’t get one job as a result of that cover.”

Well, as they say, he who laughs last laughs best. Original Victory album artwork, acrylic, 20 ½ x 38 in., with artist letter of authenticity, $40,000 – $60,000.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 Kip Omolade on 11.06.09 at 9:48 am

Fascinating!!! Insightful as usual, Harry.

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