"like cut-out gouaches by Matisse set adrift on Monet's lily pond"
(D. Bourdon, "Andy Warhol," Village Voice, December 3, 1964, p. 11).
Warhol chose the celebratory subject of Flowers for his debut in late 1964 at the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Castelli had turned away Warhol a few years earlier because he already represented another Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein. Since then, however, Warhol's star had risen in shows at the Stable Gallery in New York and other international locations, and Castelli finally accepted Warhol into his influential lineup. Warhol filled the gallery with silkscreen paintings of flowers in various sizes, including a wall-sized panel covered in a grid of Flowers. Although each panel repeated the same image of four blossoms, Warhol varied them in color and in subtleties of paint. Warhol embraced the square format's flexibility, allowing the flowers to be hung randomly in different orientations, which resulted in a rhythmic counterpoint to the repetitive nature of the pattern. The exhibition was a smashing success and Castelli quickly sold out his stock of Warhol Flowers.
Derived from a color photograph of hibiscus blossoms, which originally appeared in a two page spread of the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, the image was originally used to illustrate an article on a Kodak color processor designed for amateurs. Appropriating the image, Warhol transcribed the hibiscus flower heads into a more pattern-like square by cropping the original image and re-positioning the flowers by rotating one of them 180 degrees. The square was a format that Warhol was fond of using. "I like painting on a square," Warhol later stated, "because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square" (Andy Warhol cited in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p.191). In addition to repositioning the image into a square-format Warhol also flattened the original image by translating the background-through the silkscreen medium into a night-sight-like two tone image of the grass undergrowth. By flattening color and form as seen in this Flower painting he generated what is probably the most abstract of all of Warhol's images of the 1960s.
In selecting the color for his flowers, Warhol deliberately chose unnatural-looking hues of brilliant synthetic color. It was in 1965 when color began to play an increasingly important role in his work. Often referred to as Day-Glo or cosmetic coloring the splashes of vibrant color draw the viewer in immediately. The abstract manufactured look of these Flowers emphasizes both their commercial application as a saleable commodity and the mass-produced process by which these natural symbols of beauty have come into. Echoing his iconic portraits of other mass-produced beauties such as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, the Flower series serves as an extension of Warhol's synthetic vision of the universe into the realm of nature.