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

Self-Portrait

Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Self-Portrait
stamped with the artist's signature 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap); and numbered 'P040.050' (on the stretcher)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
22 x 22in. (55.9 x 55.9cm.)
Executed in 1986
Provenance
The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York.
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
The Greenberg Gallery, Saint Louis.
Thomas Babeor Gallery, La Jolla.
Jason McCoy Inc., New York.
Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 1995).
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 13 May 2009, lot 42.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
Art+Auction, February 1990 (illustrated in color, p. 70).
Exhibited
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 1964-1986, 1989.
New York, Max Protetch Gallery, 20 Years 1969-1989, 1989-1990.
New York, Jason McCoy Inc., Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 1990, no. 16 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
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Francis Outred
Francis Outred

Lot Essay

'At Christmas we visited a collector friend of Lucio Amelio who had a powerful red portrait of Beuys by Andy Warhol hanging in his house. As I looked at the painting I realised two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th Century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later, I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous 'fright wig'. One of the images had not only a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity. We agreed on the number of paintings and that some would have camouflage. When I returned to New York some weeks later the paintings were complete. The only problem was that Warhol had painted the demonic "Hammer House of Horror" image rather than the one we had chosen. I remonstrated with him and reminded him of our agreement. Without demur he made all the pictures again but with the image we had first selected. And so between us we brought two great series of self-portraits into the world' (A. d'Offay quoted in Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, 2004, p. 127).


'If you want to know about Andy Warhol, the just look at the surface of my pictures and there I am; theres nothing in between' (A. Warhol quoted by G. Berg, 'Andy: My True Story', in Los Angeles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p. 3).



Andy Warhol's last great series of self-portraits remain some of the most powerful and evocative works of his entire career. Completed shortly before his sudden death in 1986, this moving portrayal contains many of the hallmarks of his unique vision. With its sumptuous clash of brash, bright, glowing pink emerging from the recesses of the thick inky black background, Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait immediately arrests the senses. With its 22 by 22inch proportions, the image is slightly smaller than life-size but somehow Warhol's head directly confronts us with his magnetic eyes and frontal vision, his colour an electric expansion on a natural skin colour.

Glaring gauntly out from the shadows, Andy Warhol's piercing stare commands the viewer's gaze. The vivid colour with which the artist captures his own features creates a dramatic contrast with the darkness of the surrounding canvas, and this sense of fiery emanation is accentuated by the spikes of pale hair that leap from his head like solar flares trying to escape the sun. At the same time, this rich burst of colour lends a disco-like quality as does his iconic peroxide wig. The so-called 'Fright Wig' self-portraits that Warhol created in 1986 are often considered his most successful. Despite his often debilitating shyness, throughout his career he chronicled and charted his own appearance in a range of self-portraits, culminating in this final defining series of works. His fame was now so extensive and his features so instantly recognizable in their own right, that he had easily attained the status within the Pop firmament that merited his own inclusion in his pictures. He was a significant part of modern culture, and it was only fitting that, in 1986, an entire exhibition consisting only of works from this series was held in London by Anthony d'Offay.

These pictures captured not only a sense of Warhol's celebrity, but also a sense of his fragility. The stark tonality and fleeting nature of photography belies the intense preparation that went into creating the source image, from purchasing the wig to taking and selecting a photographic template for the silkscreen. Warhols gaunt appearance, heightened by the contrast between light and dark, adds a strange, searing anxiety to Self-Portrait. This picture appears to be a self-examination as well as a self-presentation. Warhol is looking into the mirror and confronting what he sees there.

Because of this, some people read the fright-wig pictures as a form of memento mori, with the artist facing his fears of his own mortality, deliberately exploiting the contrast between light and dark to present his head in such a way that it recalls the skulls of old master paintings. This reading has gained weight by the fact that Warhol himself died from complications following a routine gallstone operation the following year. For Warhol, though, these pictures appear to have contained his fear of death but also, crucially, proof of life (and, naturally, fame): he himself said, 'I paint pictures of myself to remind myself that I'm still around' (A. Warhol quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London 1989, p. 480).

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