ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)
stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol stamp, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. stamp and numbered 'PO 40.017' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
14 x 14in. (35.4 x 35.4cm.)
Executed in 1986
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1999).
Bear Witness, Sotheby's London, 10 March 2015, lot 31.
Private Collection.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
St. Moritz, Vito Schnabel Gallery, The Age of Ambiguity. Abstract Figuration / Figurative Abstraction, 2017, pp. 10 and 70 (illustrated in colour, p. 71).

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Executed the year before his untimely death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) stands as the striking culmination of his career. A combination of Pop vitality and emotional resonance, the present picture exhibits and celebrates the complex nature of the artist’s life and work. Through his art Warhol examined the rise of celebrity culture, the commodification of America, and the fragility of life—all subjects touched on here. But arguably his greatest subject was himself, and during the course of his career he painted a number of self-portraits which reflected his changing sense of self. Rarely seen in public, this powerful self-portrait stands as the summation of this incredible journey.

Set against a dramatic green ground, the haunting face of Andy Warhol stares out from the surface of the canvas. Distinguished by his iconic fright wig (a platinum blond hairpiece that the artist increasingly wore later in life), the darkness of his drawn features sits in stark contrast to the vividness of his chosen background. Unlike many of the self-portraits that Warhol executed during his lifetime, in the present work he has rendered a ‘negative’ image of himself, adding a further layer of conceptual depth and complexity to this already highly intangible series. Thus, the dark expanse of his sunken cheekbones, his high forehead, and elongated nose are offset by the dramatic magnetic luminosity of his engaging stare. The piercing gaze with which Warhol fixes his audience demonstrates that, even at the end of his career, the artist still has the ability to hypnotise us with the power and intensity of his art.

Displaying his isolated face so openly, and with such seeming alacrity, no other body of work by Warhol demonstrates the paradox presented by the artist’s self-consciousness and his celebrity status better than these late Self-Portraits. He is knowingly representing himself as both recognisable and disguised; a real person, yet one abstracted through art. Robert Rosenblum, who has spoken eloquently of the spectral presence of death in these paintings, makes the profundity inherent to this series clear: ‘A sense of ultimate moment fills all these works, as well as a sense of staged artifice that, for a moment, can ward off the unstaged reality of death. Above all, spirit is about to conquer flesh, as if staring, frontal icon of Byzantine deity were created before our eyes’ (R. Rosenblum, ‘Warhol’s Masks’, in D. Elger (ed.), Andy Warhol: Self portraits, Hanover 2004, p. 37).

From his early career, death had been an ever-present leitmotif in Warhol’s work. Ever since a bout of scarlet fever as a child, he had been acutely aware of his own mortality, and his preoccupation with death remained constant. From the monumental works that comprised the early 1960s Death and Disaster series—the Car Crashes, Suicides, Electric Chairs, and Race Riots, which were based on photos from tabloids and movie magazines—to the posthumous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, his work extended this existential vision of the world. Not only was he neurotically afraid of germs, disease and hospitals, in 1968 he had survived an assassination attempt, even ‘dying’ momentarily on the operating table. As he grew older, many of his closest friends fell victim to the newly discovered AIDS virus. ‘I paint pictures of myself,’ he said once, ‘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).

Like many artists—from the Northern Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer to Edvard Munch, who were both masters of manifesting their own image—throughout his lifetime Warhol was adept at presenting a version of himself to the public that he wanted to. In his very first painted self-portrait from 1963-1964, the young artist chose to depict himself shielded from the public gaze by dark sunglasses and the upturned collar of his trench coat. It was only with these later self-portraits that he himself embraced the Pop audacity that he had previously lavished on others. His response to the noble tradition of self-portraiture was to create an engaging series of works which were seemingly anonymous and emotionally vacant, yet were in fact one of the most hauntingly accurate depictions of an artist ever made. Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) becomes, arguably, the work which establishes itself as the final icon of the famously enigmatic and often frighteningly clairvoyant persona that Warhol built for himself and presented to the world.

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