AN ASPECT OF WARHOL’S EVOLUTION: AN UNDOING
I sense the backwards spiraling in the work of Warhol—a sort of undoing. He begins as a solo, meticulous draughtsman,
using the blotted line method as a way of evoking the sense that the works already belong to the world of published, printed images—granting the initially private works the illusion of an established public acceptance and presence (PBS, part 1).
In the end he abandons for the most part his detailed drawing in favor of photography/silkscreening, and filmmaking, becoming an open, “objective” mirror for the culture. “What was he impressed with, then? Fame—old, new, or faded. Beauty. Classical talent. Innovative talent. Anyone who did anything first. A certain kind of outrageous nerve. Good talkers. Money—especially big, old, American brand-name money…” recalls Pat Hackett (Hackett x).
In his own words, “I was never embarrassed about asking someone, ‘What should I paint?’—because pop comes from the outside…” (Wrenn 19). Indeed, some of his most famous works, including the soup cans, the silkscreened money imagery, and the Death and Disaster series, all began as suggestions and ideas of cohorts (PBS, part 1).
Warhol at first celebrates the celebrities,
and then later in the ‘70s and ‘80s, begins to elevate everyone to the stature of celebrity (though of course he held court in these later stages of his life with countless famous personalities.)
As artist Ronnie Cutrone puts it, “Pop Art was over, and there was a bunch of new movements… Pop celebrity portraits in the sixties—the Marilyns, Lizzes, Elvises, Marlons, etc.—it was a natural evolution to do portraits of private—or at least non-show business—people, therefore making them equal, in some sense, to the legends” (xiv). (I think it interesting, too, how the titles transform the individual star into pluralities in Cutrone’s description.) Even Warhol’s silkscreening process itself, beginning with the application of color, and ending with the application of the image, feels beautifully backwards, intuitive—perhaps even slightly abstract.
WARHOL’S SILKSCREEN PAINTING PROCESS
A negative of a Warhol-selected photographed image (originally from a newspaper, magazine, etc.) would be produced in a shop. Andy first placed paint on the canvas—the last step was to screen the image on top of the colors. Warhol on the silkscreening process: “With silkscreening, you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across so that the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That was the way you got the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple—quick and chancy.
I was thrilled with it. My first experiments with screens were heads of Troy Donahue and Warren Beaty, and then when Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face—the first Marilyns.” (Warhol 220).
As Wayne Koestenbaum relates, “Silkscreening required a historically new variety of visual intelligence—a designer’s, or a director’s, perhaps rather than a conventional painter’s” (Koestenbaum 61).
“From these first beginnings, Pop was not involved with either a simple copying of commercial sources or a simple rejection of the look of abstract art; instead, Warhol set up more or less obviously parodic situations of uncomfortable similarity between the two” (Varnedoe 338).
THE WARHOL CURRENTLY IN-OFFICE
To encounter not only an original Andy Warhol, but also a masterwork with a fascinating provenance, makes for a near-personal encounter with several iconic figures and cultural institutions of the 1960s. Perhaps Warhol returns to us our cultural property, and to encounter this original Warhol, on loan temporarily as we execute the appraisal and research process, gives us the sense that some of the fabric of this pop culture belongs to each of us—in this temporary arrangement, for this brief witnessing, the iconic Marilyn Monroe is visiting another “individual non-individual” for a moment.
Please visit our blog site again! Next week, I will consider Warhol’s use of artful and intriguing repetition.
Written and Researched by Jessica Savitz
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Burns, Ric. Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film. PBS, 2006.
Hackett, Pat. The Andy Warhol Diaries. Warner Books: New York, 1989.
Koestenbaum, Wayne. Andy Warhol. Viking: New York, 2001.
Warhol, Andy and Hackett, Pat. POPism: The Warhol Sixties. Harcourt Brace & Company: New York, 1980.
Varnedoe, Kirk, and Gopnik, Adam. High and Low:Modern Art, Popular Culture. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.: New York, 1991.