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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Enamel on wood
51.25 x 36.25 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Joe Light earned a modest income at Memphis flea markets where he bought and sold pop-culture kitsch and castoffs in the forms of toys, comic books, magazines, and movies. He often converted the source materials into highly personal images that reflected his beliefs and values. Light’s portrait of the American singer and movie star Elvis Presley (1935-1977) treats the entertainer with the reverence accorded to a religious icon: a crown floats about Elvis’s head, signifying his popular designation as the King of Rock and Roll. The crown contains the stylized imagery of a river, Light’s symbol for “crossing over” to salvation in the afterlife. A flower, emblematic for the artist of earthly temptation and vice, may reference the drug use that ended the singer’s life. —Timothy Anglin Burgard