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

John Lennon (Green)

Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
John Lennon (Green)
stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol stamp (on the overlap); numbered twice 'P050.037' (on the stretcher)
acrylic and silkscreen inks on canvas
40 x 40in. (101.6 x 101.6cm.)
Executed in 1985-1986
Provenance
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Private Collection, New Mexico.
Deitch Projects, New York.
Acquired from the above by the previous owner.
Exhibited
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Andy Warhol: Portraits of the Seventies and Eighties, 1993, p. 157, no. 48 (illustrated in colour, p. 132).
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Lot Essay

‘Someone came in and said John Lennon was shot and no-one could believe it, so someone called the Daily News, and they said it was true. It was scary; it was all anyone could talk about… The one who killed him was a frustrated artist. They brought up the Dali poster he had on his wall. They always interview the janitors and the old schoolteachers and things. The kid said the devil made him do it. And John was so rich, they say he left a $235million estate. And the ‘vigil’ is still going on at the Dakota. It looked strange, I don’t know what those people think their doing’ (A. Warhol, 10-12 December 1980, quoted by P. Hackett, (ed.) The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York 1989, pp. 347-348).

‘Andy Warhol is one of the great unacknowledged influences on pop music. He influenced it in a very specific way, by fostering the Velvet Underground. But his influence spreads beyond that - you see it everywhere, but it’s hard to define. It’s a matter of style and attitude. Not only did Warhol leave his mark on Roxy Music, David Bowie, the Ramones, Talking Heads and every other New York art rock group, but he helped make them possible’ (M. Harron, ‘Pop Art/PopMusic: The Warhol Connection,’ Melody Maker, in 16 February 1980, accessed via www.warhholstars.org, December 2014).

Andy Warhol’s John Lennon brings together two of the twentieth centuries greatest cultural icons in one larger-then-life portrait—with the pioneer of Pop art depicting one of the founding figures of Pop music. Distinguished by its electric green hues, this dazzling portrait reflects Warhol’s life-long fascination with fame and celebrity and continues the subject matter with which he had begun his career in the early 1960s with his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley. In this 1985 painting, the face of John Lennon stares out through his iconic round glasses, his features serenely rendered in Warhol’s distinctive Pop hues. Unusually, Warhol declined to use one of his own photographs of Lennon, deciding instead to use an image created by one of the most famous photographers of the 1960s and the man who photographed the legendary image used on the Beatles’ album, Abbey Road. The painting is the culmination of a friendship between the two men which had begun over a decade earlier when the former Beatle arrived in New York with Yoko Ono, and only ended with Lennon’s death in 1980.

Emblazoned across a background of sumptuous emerald green, Warhol’s image of John Lennon stares out serenely from the surface of the canvas. Warhol captures the light falling across his subject’s features—his tussled hair, bushy eyebrows and unblemished complexion—with a complex range of techniques and colours. Using vivid green as his base colour he uses accents of delicate mauve to define the light-infused expanse of Lennon’s face, complimenting it with a darker shade of green for the areas that fall in shadow. The distinctive outline of Lennon’s glasses, his shock of unruly hair and the thin outline of his pursed lips are all rendered in a kaleidoscope of rainbow hues which morph from one colour into another as they progress across the canvas. This complex arrangement succeeds in conjuring up a wonderfully serene image of one of the giants of the Pop age, a face that became an iconic part of one of the greatest musical acts in history, The Beatles, and also the voice of a generation.

This striking portrait of Lennon was painted in the winter months of 1985-1986, five years after Lennon’s murder in New York and just a year before Warhol’s own untimely death early in 1986. Although Warhol had known Lennon and Yoko Ono for over a decade and had taken many photographs of his friend, for this particular painting Warhol decided to use an image taken in 1971 by Iain MacMillan. The Scottish photographer had worked with Yoko Ono in the mid-1960s, photographing some of her artwork and she then introduced him to Lennon who consequently invited him to shoot the cover of their new album, Abbey Road. MacMillan’s photograph of the four Beatles walking across a pedestrian crossing outside the north London recording studio has since become of the most iconic images in music history and—nearly ffty years later—is still replicated dozens of times a day by the thousands of tourists who make the pilgrimage to the studios ever year. This painting was produced as part of a project to mark the release of Lennon’s posthumous album Menlove Avenue, which contained a selection of previously unreleased material from the ex-Beatles’ Rock ‘n’ Roll sessions recorded with legendary music producer Phil Spector. The album was released under the supervision of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and the title of the album referred to the name of the street in Liverpool where Lennon had grown up. Warhol produced two paintings of Lennon that were used for the front and back covers of this album, these two paintings were given to Yoko. At the same time Warhol also produced this 40 x 40inch portrait of Lennon in the style of some of his portraits of other iconic figures such as the society portraits.

Warhol was particularly affected by the events of December 8, 1980 when Lennon was shot by Mark Chapman outside his apartment in the Dakota building. Warhol was attending a benefit for the Costume Institute when news of the shooting broke. He recorded the events of the night in his diaries, noting ‘Someone came in and said John Lennon was shot and no-one could believe it, so someone called the Daily News, and they said it was true. It was scary; it was all anyone could talk about’ Two days later he wrote, ‘The one who killed him was a frustrated artist. They brought up the Dalí poster he had on his wall. They always interview the janitors and the old schoolteachers and things. The kid said the devil made him do it. And John was so rich, they say he left a $235 million estate. And the ‘vigil’ is still going on at the Dakota. It looked strange, I don’t know what those people think their doing’ (A. Warhol, 10 December 1980, P. Hackett, (ed.) The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York 1989, pp. 347-348). It is perhaps fitting that Warhol’s portrait of John Lennon, one of the preeminent figures in popular music, was among the last works in his lifelong series of portraits that featured some of the greatest figures in popular culture of last half of the twentieth century. Music had always been an important part of Warhol’s world and as well as being a colossus in the world of the visual arts, he had a tremendous influence in the world of popular music too. ‘Warhol’s influence on pop music started with pop art and what it did to America,’ writes Mary Harron in her examination of Warhol’s of role in the development of Pop music in Melody Maker in 1980. ‘Andy Warhol is one of the great unacknowledged influences on pop music. He influenced it in a very specific way, by fostering the Velvet Underground. But his influence spreads beyond that - you see it everywhere, but it’s hard to define. It’s a matter of style and attitude. Not only did Warhol leave his mark on Roxy Music, David Bowie, the Ramones, Talking Heads and every other New York art rock group, but he helped make them possible’ (M. Harron, ‘Pop Art/PopMusic: The Warhol Connection,’ in Melody Maker, 16 February 1980, accessed via www.warhholstars.org, December 2014).

In many ways Warhol and Lennon were kindred spirits; both came of age at roughly the same time (the early 1960s), both were pioneers in their respective fields and both went on to became two of the greatest cultural figures of the twentieth century. Warhol’s fascination with the growth of pop culture, his obsession with celebrity and interest in music made John Lennon a natural choice, a factor only enhanced by Lennon’s own shocking death. Just as Warhol did with the other members of his pantheon of stars, in John Lennon he deftly blended together often contradictory elements of celebrity in his wry celebration of contemporary culture. This painting celebrates not only the influence of one of the giants of twentieth century music, but also the importance that the genre has had in our everyday lives.

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