By Donald Wittkowski
One of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic images, a publicity photo taken during her starring role in the 1961 romantic comedy “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” shows her puffing on a slender, foot-long cigarette holder.
Artist Michael Kenney reimagined the same photo and created a striking, abstract portrait of Hepburn that makes it appear her face has been covered by colorful graffiti. Despite the dramatic facelift, it is still very clearly Audrey Hepburn.
Kenney’s work caught the attention Sunday of Pat Furey, a vacationer from Chicago who paid $700 for the Hepburn portrait during the Boardwalk Art Show, an Ocean City summer tradition now in its 55th year.
Furey explained that he plans to put the Hepburn image in his dining room, next to his other pieces of contemporary artwork.
“I’m interested in contemporary art,” he said. “This is an iconic image. Even though her face has been taken away, you can still recognize Audrey Hepburn. It’s an eye-catching piece of art.”
The Boardwalk Art Show promotes itself as a place for Ocean City visitors to buy high-quality artwork at affordable prices. Kenney was among 79 artists from across the East Coast who had their work up for sale over the weekend.
The 26-year-old Kenney, who goes by the professional name “Michael J,” described his images as a mixture of pop culture, abstract art and street-art graffiti.
“I like to blend them all together,” he said.
Kenney, who lives in Marlton, Burlington County, likes using celebrities and movie characters in his work. His subjects range from movie stars to hip-hop artists to Disney cartoon figures, such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.
The art show also featured more traditional style oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings, as well as photography, prints and drawings. For the first time in the history of the show, handmade jewelry was added this year.
Rosalyn Lifshin, executive director of the Ocean City Arts Center, the show’s sponsor, said the beachfront location offers a unique venue and contributes to the show’s popularity with the public.
“Other shore towns have their own art shows, but I believe we’re the only one that is right on the beachfront,” she said.
The show itself is an attraction for summer visitors, Lifshin noted. She said she knows of some art aficionados who book their Ocean City vacations at the same time as the show.
“Ocean City is a charming place for vacations. Many people want to be up on the Boardwalk. A lot of people come here specifically for the art show,” she said.
The show’s longevity is also due to its popularity among the artists. Lifshin said many artists have told her that Ocean City gives them their strongest sales.
Some artists have been coming to the show for decades. One of them, Arlene Fisher, of Lancaster, Pa., has been a fixture for 45 years, perhaps giving her the most seniority.
“It’s been very, very profitable for me,” Fisher said, explaining why she returns year after year.
Now 80 years old, Fisher began painting in 1971, when she was in her 30s. Fisher and her family, including Bill, her husband of 61 years, had vacationed in Ocean City before she ever began displaying her artwork.
After taking some art lessons in night school and dabbling in her craft, she felt she was ready to begin selling her paintings in Ocean City. Fisher’s folk art is dominated by quaint scenes of the countryside near her Lancaster home.
“I go to the countryside and sketch from inside my car,” she said.
Fisher lives in an old farmhouse and uses a barn as her art studio.
Lancaster’s Amish population often inspires her work. A painting of hers depicting a group of Amish people playing dodgeball was bought by the Ocean City Arts Center for $300 over the weekend as part of its tradition of acquiring one piece of artwork from the show each year for its permanent collection, Fisher said.