"When Warhol and that whole scene made Flowers, it reflected the urban, dark, death side of that whole movement. And as decorative art, it's pretty dense. There is a lot of depth in there...You have this shadowy dark grass, which is not pretty, and then you have these big, wonderful, brightly coloured flowers. It was always that juxtaposition that appears in his art again and again that I particularly love." (John O' Connor and Benjamin Liu, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p.61)
In the summer of 1964 Andy Warhol conceived his first series of Flower paintings in anticipation of his first show at the Castelli gallery in New York. Ranging in size, these brightly colored paintings formed the culmination of his painterly development during the early 1960s and rapidly sold out. Despite their exuberant colors and seemingly ordinary exterior, these popular paintings are also among the most dark and pessimistic works in Warhol's oeuvre. Following his Death and Disaster series of paintings, Warhol's decision to fill Castelli's gallery with flowers served a dual purpose: to transform the space into a funeral parlor whilst at the same time mimicking the joyful banality of a flower shop. Bridging the gap between painting and installation these works were in effect the last paintings Warhol made in the sixties before embracing the wider forms of expression.
Executed in 1964, the year after the Castelli show, this 22 inch square two-color Flower painting is a significant example from a series commissioned by Ethel and Robert Scull as a mural for their second home. In order to differentiate the 22 inch series from those completed for the Castelli show, Warhol used a slightly smaller screen and printed directly over the white primer, in a similar fashion to the works he was preparing for his exhibition that was taking place in Paris at the Sonnabend gallery. Like the Sonnabend paintings, the 22 inch series, featuring the hibiscus flowers on a black and white background, were screened rather than hand painted, a process which enabled Warhol to produce many more canvases in a shorter period of time. Made with as many as three distinct colors, the Scull paintings as they were referred to initiated a coloristic practice that Warhol would progressively develop from 1965-67. For the Scull commission, the flowers in each canvas would vary whereas for the Sonnabend paintings, the flowers were all in the same color.
Derived from a color photograph of hibiscus blossoms, which originally appeared in a two page spread of the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, the image was originally used to illustrate an article on a Kodak color processor designed for amateurs. Appropriating the image, Warhol transcribed the hibiscus flower heads into a more pattern-like square by cropping the original image and re-positioning the flowers by rotating one of them 180 degrees. The square was a format that Warhol was fond of using. "I like painting on a square," Warhol later stated, "because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square" (Andy Warhol cited in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p.191). In addition to repositioning the image into a square-format Warhol also flattened the original image by translating the background-through the silkscreen medium into a night-sight-like two tone image of the grass undergrowth. By flattening color and form as seen in this Flower painting he generated what is probably the most abstract of all of Warhol's images of the 1960s.
In selecting the color for his flowers, Warhol deliberately chose unnatural-looking hues of brilliant synthetic color. It was in 1965 when color began to play an increasingly important role in his work. Often referred to as Day-glo or cosmetic coloring the splashes of vibrant color draw the viewer in immediately. The abstract manufactured look of these Flowers emphasizes both their commercial application as a saleable commodity and the mass-produced process by which these natural symbols of beauty have come into. Echoing his iconic portraits of other mass-produced beauties such as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, the Flower series serves as an extension of Warhol's synthetic vision of the universe into the realm of nature.