The mural was painted in 1981 by John Bailey, who was hired by hairdressers Roi Barnard and Charles Stinson to transform the side of the building that housed their salon, known today as Salon Roi. It was one of the first large-scale artworks in a city that’s become famed for them.
Marilyn Monroe is sort of the spirit animal for Roi. At age 82, Roi still comes into the salon three days a week. (Stinson died in 1987.) For years, Roi noticed that the mural — last refreshed in 2001 — was looking a little sad, more faded Miss Havisham than sexy “Happy birthday, Mr. President.”
And so with the help of D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, money was appropriated to repaint the mural. Roi said Kevin — a Winchester, Va., artist who goes by Jazirock — was the perfect person for the job.
“He said, ‘Roi, what I want to do is rent a pup tent and I want to live up on the roof for a week so I can bond with her,’ ” Roi told me. “I said, ‘Oh my god Kevin, that’s wonderful, on one condition: Get a pup tent that’s big enough for both of us. I want to do it, too.’
“Of course, we didn’t, but Kevin was just kooky enough to do it.”
Kevin grew up in southwest Baltimore in an impoverished neighborhood. He first saw the Marilyn mural in 1983 through the window of a school bus. He was a fourth-grader on a field trip to the National Zoo.
“I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was huge,” he said of the painting at Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street NW.
Kevin’s hobby was art, but his career was as an electrician. In 2002 he was working on a transformer at the Education Department building when an accident sent 13,200 volts surging through him. He spent six weeks recovering at Washington Hospital Center before returning home to an empty apartment.
“I come home and my roommate had moved out,” Kevin said. “I was by myself with my cat. I just started getting really depressed.”
Getting shocked had done something to Kevin’s psyche.
“I had problems adjusting,” he said. “I started painting. It was just a natural thing. I started to paint and I started feeling better.”
Kevin showed some of his works at Artomatic, then became an informal intern for master D.C. muralist Byron Peck, who taught him the basics of the craft.
“You don’t get to paint,” Kevin said. “You work. You learn. You learn brushes and paint.”
It was Peck who introduced Kevin to a German brand of paint called Keim. It’s the most expensive material Kevin’s ever used. The quart of red for Marilyn’s lips cost $137. The manufacturer claims it will last 50 years.
Marilyn Monroe is at least the second great American Kevin, 48, has painted. He also did George Washington in the Burger Tap & Shake near GWU. His assistant on this project, Andrew, has done work at 3 Stars Brewing in Northwest D.C.
When I joined the pair on the roof last Wednesday, ladders were leaning against Marilyn’s eyes, resembling tracks from tears. The hum of a large air-handling unit competed with the sound of traffic below. A pigeon peered over the lip of the adjoining building, then waddled away. Getting so close to the massive painting was exhilarating, like standing in the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
A few days later, Kevin declared the facelift complete. He and Andrew had brightened Marilyn’s face with bold colors and renewed her striking beauty mark. The actress’s mirrored eye highlights — dulled by the elements — had been replaced. A new pair of circular mirrors were epoxied in place. The formerly red-brick wall to the left of Marilyn’s face had been covered in black paint, making the mural pop even more.
When I talked to Roi later on the phone, he was delighted. The past 12 months have been up and down for him. He had triple bypass surgery last year, but a film crew has been following him around to create a documentary based on his memoir, “Mister, Are You a Lady?”
Roi is hoping Woodley Park Main Street, a business development group, will soon organize an event rededicating the Marilyn mural.
He has another idea, too: “After we have that party, I may drape her with a black mask with sequins. I thought it would be a hoot. Also, we’re making a statement: Wear your damn mask. Just wear it.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.