In 1968 Warhol created Flash, a portfolio of eleven screenprints reflecting on the unfolding media spectacle surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. The collective obsession with the Kennedy assassination, a potent combination of celebrity and tragedy, fascinated Warhol.
'When President Kennedy was shot that fall, I heard the news over the radio while I was alone painting in my studio. I don't think I missed a stroke. I wanted to know what was going on out there, but that was the extent of my reaction. I'd been thrilled about having Kennedy as president; he was handsome, young, smart - but it didn't bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing.’ (Andy Warhol, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, London 2007, p. 77).
Source images for FLASH included campaign posters, an advertisement for the rifle used by Lee Harvey Oswald, press photographs of Oswald escorted by Texas Rangers after his arrest, and the now iconic image of Jackie Kennedy smiling from the Lincoln Continental stretch limousine moments before her husband’s death. Warhol’s approach to this material is, however, far from literal. Avoiding narrative sequence or an hierarchy of events, images are taken out of context, re-arranged and overprinted, with the effect that the sources are obscured rather than documented. Shifting layers of truth and fiction are suggested by the motif of a film clapper which Warhol transposes onto photographs of both Kennedy and Oswald. Does this describe the choreography of news reportage by the tabloid press for maximum effect, or does it allude to the darker conspiracy theories around JKF’s assassination? Warhol’s use of colour heightens the dramatic pitch of the series. However, while the blues for Jackie and the red and black for JFK are evocative of mourning, violence and death, the shocking pink used for Oswald, and the innocuous green of the murder weapon seem arbitrary, disrupting any preconceived notions of colour and meaning. Disorientating and elusive, Warhol’s FLASH presciently evokes the fragmented reality of our information-saturated world, in which facts, imagination and lies become indistinguishable.