"If you want to know Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am; there's nothing in between." (Andy Warhol, cited in Gretchen Berg, 'Andy: My True Story' in Los Angeles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p. 3)
Finished in the months preceding his untimely death, Andy Warhol's Self-portrait (Fright Wig) is the culmination of the artist's investigations of image, identity and celebrity. Warhol reveled in and revealed the mechanisms of the culture of stardom. With this series, the artist returned his steely focus to himself after years of making portraits, including publishing Interview magazine and hosting his own television show. Warhol had an unparalleled command of the medium.
As in earlier series of self-portraits, Warhol again utilizes a device, in this case the frightful wig, that enacts the theatrical drama of this composition. The tools that he wielded allowed Warhol to explore and transform his own multilayered persona: as artist, as star, as icon. It is how identity can function as a screen, onto which could be projected realities and fantasies, that Warhol understood and exploited to such masterful effect.
Formally linked to the glamorous images of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy that he had produced in the 1960's, Warhol has presented himself on a gold field. This directly frontal presentation, elevates the image of the artist to the status of icon, on par with celestial beings and anointed saints. Above the unblinking intensity of his stare, Warhol has composed a deadpan shock of a wig. Strands of hair emanate from the artist's head, lending the stolid portrait an expressionistic vigor. Functioning almost as a crown, Warhol's wig was inseparable from his person, a symbol of the vanity and eccentricity of fame.
"A sense of ultimate moment fills all these works, as well as a sense of stages artifice that, for a moment, can ward off the unstaged reality of death. Above all, spirit is about to conquer flesh, as if staring, frontal icon of Byzantine deity were created before our eyes." Robert Rosenblum "Andy Warhol's Masks", in Andy Warhol: Selfportraits, Dietmar Elger (ed.), Germany, 2004