Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)


Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas
22½ x 22½in. (57.2 x 57.2cm.)
Executed in 1966
Leo Castelli, New York.
Ben Berillo, New York.
Holly Solomon, New York.
Private Collection, New York (1969).
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, no. 226 or 227.
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1976, no. 387 or 388.
G. Frei and N. Printz, The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings and Sculpture 1964-1969, vol 2B, London 2002, pp. 242 and 256, no. 1908 (illustrated in colour, p. 242).
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Lot Essay

"If a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?" ( Andy Warhol cited in Warhol David Bourdon, New York, 1989, p. 13).

The self-portraits that Warhol executed between 1966 and early 1967 are one of the artist's most direct and powerful statements about the very artificial nature of his work and himself. Painted during the height of his interest in film and film-making these self-portraits reflect a powerful sense of the artist as the cool, dispassionate and objective voyeur that he saw his role of film-maker demanding. They present the image of Warhol in the kind of pose he liked to take up when standing behind the camera, gazing at the performers and "sucking in reality" like a vacuum-cleaner in the same way that he once described his seemingly endlessly running camera.

Using his trademark silk-screen transfer technique, Warhol depicts himself as a flat and half-shadowed image tentatively looking directly at the viewer as if deep in contemplation of the image before him. With two fingers resting lightly on his chin signifying an ambiguous mood of indecision, the pose reflects Warhol's view of himself as an enigma and, typically, returns the inquisitive gaze of the viewer with a blank stare that reveals little.

As if to emphasize the shadowy and ephemeral nature of his presence further, Warhol, in a step that anticipates his later camouflage and shadow paintings of the late 1970s, highlights the spectral nature of his self image by eschewing flesh tones and by dousing the work in a series of violently clashing synthetic colour. In this early example of the series from 1966, Warhol has chosen a chilling electric blue and a deep maroon for the shadow area. This flat, mechanically-produced photographic image is somewhat humorously disrupted by the unevenness and striking red of the artist's hand-painted hair. Emphasizing the artificiality of the way in which this portrait has been made, this hand-painting also highlights the artificiality of Warhol's own image by mapping the outline of his famous wig.

Warhol once remarked that he'd like his tombstone to say, "figment". Extending the semi-automatic nature of his self-portraiture that he had begun in 1964 with his series of photobooth self-portraits, this 1966-7 series emphasizes Warhol's view of his own 'self' as a "figment" even further. As this work clearly shows, Warhol presents himself as a formal construction. Warhol had indeed begun consciously to construct his own personal image by donning the wig and altering his nose long before making his first self-portraits, but it is only in these works that he begins to hint at the inherent artificiality of his own appearance.

Using a combination of the kind of vibrant psychedelic colours that were soon to adorn every rock concert poster on the West Coast, the 1966-7 self-portraits play with the nature of reality by exposing its artifice. Symbolising the age of LSD in which hundreds of young people were beginning to 'turn on' to the idea that there were various layers of reality and that what was conventionally thought of as real was in fact also a constructed fiction, Warhol places his own art and self-image at the centre of this debate without comment. Like Janus, the double-headed god of antiquity, this flat two-dimensional and seemingly transparent image of Warhol seems also to face in two directions. By publicly presenting himself in a contemplative and inward-looking way the work displays a distanced quality that is both a presentation to the viewer of his own artificially constructed self and also, in the established tradition of self-portraiture a seeming attempt at self investigation. Typically however, Warhol refutes any sense of depth or meaning in his approach, by presenting himself, like his art as ultimately an abstraction. Like Dylan's "Prince and Princess" futilely discussing "what's real and what is not" outside the "Gates of Eden", Warhol too asserts that ultimately, it doesn't matter. 'All my films are artificial,' he once observed, 'but then everything's sort of artificial. I don't know where artificial stops and the real starts.'

As with the best of all of Warhol's work this self-portrait illustrates that the cool distanced Warholian take on life changes the way in which we look at the world.
"I think" Warhol recalled, "that once you see emotions from a certain angle you can never think of them as real again. That's more or less what's happened to me...The acquisition of my tape recorder really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go. Nothing was ever a problem again, because a problem just meant a good tape, and when a problem transforms itself into a good tape it's not a problem any more. An interesting problem was an interesting tape. Everybody knew that and performed for the tape. You couldn't tell which problems were real and which were exaggerated for the tape. Better yet, the people telling you the problems couldn't decide any more if they were really having the problems or if they were just performing." (The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), New York, 1975, p. 27).

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