Memphis artist Debbie Crawford liked the way Elvis Presley revolutionized music in the 1950s, so when she decided to paint Elvis she wanted to change the way people look at him. "He didn't sing the regular old way. He showed us a whole new way of looking at music, and I wanted to show a new way to look at him as well," said Crawford. She submitted an abstract expressionist portrait of Elvis as her entry in Graceland's contest for the best representation of Elvis' rise to fame in 1956.
The abstract Elvis is one of dozens of entries arriving so far in a national contest in which a panel of Graceland judges will choose its favorites, then submit those pieces to Facebook. On Facebook, users can vote for the best by using the Facebook "like" feature. The entry receiving the most "likes" wins.
Crawford, head of sales and marketing for Pugh's Flowers, based her acrylic painting of Elvis on a 1956 photo by New York photographer Alfred Wertheimer. It was one of a series of photos of Elvis returning by train from New York to Memphis after appearing on "The Steve Allen Show."
The Graceland contest emphasizes the 1956 theme by offering 56 prizes, and Crawford said she was especially drawn by one prize - a free trip to Memphis and Graceland. Although she lives in Memphis, she has never taken a tour of Graceland. "I wouldn't mind a trip to Graceland. I've been to the vigil (candlelight vigil in August), but I've never actually been inside Graceland."
New York artist Laurentiu Todié, a photo retoucher, also came up with a 1956 theme with what he calls a "digital painting" that deals with the censorship Elvis faced at the beginning of his career over his overtly sexual "Elvis-the-pelvis" stage moves. Todié, originally of Romania, said he used the censorship theme to present the image most memorable to him. "It is the grin I remember best from when I was a kid," he said.
His work is a pixelated or highly magnified image that, in effect, blurs the photograph. Viewed at a distance, the image is more readily apparent. In Todié's photo, it is the Elvis grin that comes into view. "So using pixels is in a way like censoring my own image," he said.
At Graceland, marketing vice president Scott Williams said Graceland's archives include hundreds of pieces of art created by fans. "Thanks to social networking, we'll be creating a virtual gallery that allows art inspired by Elvis in 1956 to be viewed by Elvis fans around the world and will give them the opportunity to select their favorites and share those with their friends on Facebook."
PICTURE: Memphian Debbie Crawford created an abstract expressionist portrait of Elvis based on a 1956 photograph by Alfred Wertheimer.