This magnificent, double-paneled Silver Liz from 1963 is one of Andy Warhol's most alluring works, conceived out of his obsession for one of Hollywood's most glamorous stars. It is a shimmering icon of the Pop Art movement that contains many of Warhol's key ideas and themes. Painted at the very birth of the Pop Art movement, the work combines his love of celebrity and pop culture with an early example of his silkscreen work in one glittering work. With its impeccable provenance of the Ferus Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery and the distinguished collection of Mr. and Mrs. Horace H. Solomon, this painting is one of the most iconic pieces of Warhol's work still in private hands.
Central to his pantheon of Pop icons, which included Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elvis, Silver Liz immortalizes Elizabeth Taylor as the embodiment of the cult of celebrity. Warhol was infatuated by her beauty and her glamour, becoming excited at the mere mention of her name. 'Ohhhh, Elizabeth Taylor, ohhhh. She's so glamorous' (A. Warhol quoted in K. Goldsmith, I'll be your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p.26). The painting's glistening silver background acts as a luminous mirror, reflecting her blushing skin, as well as her trademark scarlet lips and sultry eyes.
As a canonization of the actress and as a comment on the manufactured nature of fame, Warhol achieved his desired aesthetic effect in the iconic Silver Liz by employing silkscreen. As a process that he had begun on an experimental basis in 1962, Warhol recognized both the instant electricity and underlying artificiality it generated; indeed, the inky superimpositions of photo-derived screens on the bright hand-painted hues epitomized Pop in their brand-like distinctness and recognizability. Using the Duchampian methodology that he brought to his previous celebrity portraits such as the Marilyns, he created Silver Liz using a publicity image of the actress, later cropping the bust-length image just below the chin, and sizing the screen to an enlargement of this detail.
Warhol's decision to use silver for the first of his Liz silk-screens was inspired by his love of color, which became an important part of his aesthetic. He first began using silver in 1963, the year that Silver Liz was painted, and most of his silver canvases were produced during a brief burst of activity between April and July of that year. For Warhol silver was the color of Hollywood glamour and the silver screen. His love of the cinema goes back to his childhood when, as he was growing up in Depression-era Pittsburgh, he became totally enamored with the movies. He spent Saturday mornings frequenting his local movie house, watching stars like Marlene Dietrich and his childhood idol, Shirley Temple. During his many bouts of childhood illness he would comfort himself by immersing himself in his favorite reading material, his collection of movie magazines. Growing-up being bathed in the silvery light of the movie theater clearly had its effects of Warhol. It not only started a life long infatuation with the color but also provided him with much source material for his later work, these two factors combining beautifully in Silver Liz.
Warhol was also immediately captivated by the associations the color had with pop culture and the aesthetic possibilities it had for his art. In contrast to gold and its links with old fashion luxury and the ancient world, he thought silver had far more potential. 'Silver was the future, it was spacy [sic] - the astronauts wore silver suits - Shepherd, Grissom and Glenn had already been up in them, and their equipment was silver too. And silver was also the past - the Silver Screen-Hollywood actresses photographed in silver sets' (A.Warhol in POPism: The Warhol Sixties, Orlando, 1980, p. 83). Silver was also the color that defined, for Warhol, the age of high consumerism and all that was modern. It was aluminum foil and cans - clean, malleable and ultimately disposable and it was also chrome - the material of rockets, jet planes and fast cars.
Unlike Marilyn Monroe, whose suicide had prompted Warhol to create his first image of her in 1962, Liz Taylor was very much alive when Warhol turned his attention to her in the spring of 1963. She was the perfect subject for his artistic eye being beautiful, rich, and famous yet with a life touched by unhappiness and tragedy. When Warhol painted Silver Liz, Taylor was at the height of her career, having been paid the unprecedented sum of $1million to star in Cleopatra. She was never out of the spotlight, constantly being photographed attending glamorous parties and movie premiers. Despite being at the height of her professional career her personal life was not so happy. Her marriage to Eddie Fisher was fizzling out amid rumors she was having an affair with her Cleopatra co-star, Richard Burton, a side to her life that would have undoubtedly appealed to Warhol's narcissistic and celebrity infatuated nature.
Originally produced as a single canvas of Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, a second, blank silver canvas was added to the work in 1965. Much has been written about Warhol's use of blank canvases and, in truth, the real reason behind this method of working will probably remain as allusive as the true personality of Andy Warhol himself. Warhol would certainly have known the precedence for using this kind of device, including many works by artists that he admired. He would have been familiar with the "blank" canvases being produced during the immediate Post-war period, such as Yves Klein's vibrant, electric-blue monochromes and Robert Rauschenberg's White paintings. He was undoubtedly drawn to the idea of the mysterious, multifarious nature of this canvas and heightened the impact of this by placing it immediately adjacent to an image that was instantly recognizable to anyone who saw it.
The beauty of the work's two identically sized panels is also reflective of Warhol's other great love, the cinema. Joined together, the iridescent panels replicate the effect of the individual frames of a film. This effect was seen when Silver Liz was originally shown, with the others in the series, at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963. In this context Warhol was recreating Liz Taylor's image as he would have originally seen it, larger than life, projected on a wall for the consumption and admiration of others.
This use of a blank canvas attached to the main image also mirrors the layout of a magazine, with the centerfold breaking the image into two distinct parts. In the spring of 1963, at the time Silver Liz was painted, Warhol was still being commissioned by Harper's Bazaar to produce layouts for them and would have been familiar with this format and the visual possibilities that it offered. By leaving the second canvas blank, it is conceivable that he was striving to draw attention to the neighboring canvas and by setting up this kind of disruption causing the viewer to stop and think and focus on the existing image more carefully. The possibilities of this device clearly found favor with Warhol as he used it in a number of other important works, such as his Red Disaster (1963). Situating the blank canvas as the left element also builds on the convention in western society of reading from left to right. By placing the blank canvas on the left, Warhol invites a split second of contemplation before allowing us to revel in Liz Taylor's aura as the culmination of the whole aesthetic experience.
1963, the year Silver Liz was painted, was also the year that Warhol began to capitalize on his growing fame and started to produce commissioned portraits of wealthy admirers. Ethel Scull 35 Times (it became 36 in 1968 when another panel was added) became the first in a series of pictures produced for customers who wanted to cash in on Warhol's own celebrity status. Although he was beginning to gain substantial financial benefits from his work, Silver Liz was not conceived for commercial gain. It was done out of pure love and devotion for a woman he adored. When Taylor finally received her own version many years later she wrote to Warhol, "Dear Andy, I'm so proud I finally have your 'Liz' and thank you for signing it so sweetly to me. I do love you." Elizabeth or Liz (of A.W.'s fame) March 21, 1977.