Andy Warhol's portrait of Patty Oldenburg is one of only nine "Optical Paintings" currently listed in the artist's catalogue raisonne. This incredibly successful portrait utilizes a two tone system of contrasting color that is deliberately jarring; color that cannot be defined as localized as in his Soup Cans, or flavors as in the Marilyns but a formal convention more akin to film-specifically the conventions of stereoscopic film. In the early 1960's classic 3-D films like Eyes of Hell were seen through 3-D glasses by theater goers who were told that without them "you are just another mortal. With it you enter a weird new world, and share the thrills and terror of Third Dimension". Warhol gave Patty a pair of 3-D glasses for use with the picture. According to Patty "The 2 colors in the work 'sang out' with much intensity not as 3-D necessarily but in planes. Although the Picture does not require it. It is softer alone" (G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Paintings and Sculpture 1961-1963, New York, 2002, p. 278).
Warhol's portrait of Patty Oldenburg contains many of the formal devices for which he is best known, repetition, plastic color and an off-set organizational grid; employed in this case as an organizing structure for the glamorous photo booth sized image of Patty Oldenburg. As in Warhol's early Soup Can paintings the hand of the artist can be felt in this mesmerizing work. The hand drawn graphite grid loosely responsible for the registration of the individually printed head shots is visible intermittently at the edges of the canvas. A subtle flesh tone hand painted by Warhol sits just underneath the silk screened orange and blue ink. This work is as close to a unique and singular object as a work by Warhol can be considered, there are no other works recorded in the raisonne that utilize his screened images of Patty Oldenburg.
Warhol's Patty Oldenburg is deliciously gritty and manages to maintain a soul and character which would otherwise be polished out of Warhol's more public masterpieces. There is a fitting charm and intimacy inherent within Patty Oldenburg perhaps due to the fact that the artists knew each other socially and through her performances in Claes Oldenburg's Ray Gun Theater (established after the closing of The Store) where she interacted with other artists and scenesters like Lucas Samaras, Terry Brooke and Gloria Graves. Like Warhol, Patty was at home in New York's frenzied 1960's youth culture and found a home alongside other misfits and outsiders who were at odds with the otherwise practical world at large. Patty Oldenburg is a rare gem created by the artist during one of his most engaged and creative periods. Painted just months after his iconic portraits of Marilyn and just ahead of his portraits of Elvis Warhol places Patty within the same context as America's greatest stars of the silver screen and by doing so thrillingly creates a clearer and perhaps a truly sentimental picture of New York during the very early 1960's.