Transcending notions of masculinity and femininity, the sitter in profile in the present lot seems caught mid-conversation, with a beautifully manicured hand underneath her chin, adorning a bold earring and patterned headscarf. Painted in a deep navy blue, the anonymous subject is surrounded by gestural swaths of pink, mustard and brown, providing an individualized element in an otherwise mechanized mode of production. Part of Andy Warhol’s lauded Ladies and Gentlemen series of drag queens and transvestites, the double-entendre title amplifies the gender play at work.
Warhol was fascinated by drag queens, even embarking on his own set of photographs in drag in 1981, as they personified ‘ambulatory archives of ideal movie star womanhood’ (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again), New York 1975, p. 54). True to this statement, these works encapsulate the same epitome of beauty and glamor that starlets such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor embodied in Warhol’s earlier work. Yet, rather than appropriate publicity images as he did for his celebrity portraits, which created a sense of repetition and subsequent distance from the subject, Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen were sourced using in-person Polaroid snapshots in the same vein as his commissioned portraits. This proximity to the subject creates a tension between the artifice of the gender façade and the earnest expression of the sitter, which belies an underlying vulnerability.
Proudly and glamorously posed, the sitters for Andy Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen exist in a unique category of the artist’s famed silkscreen portraits. Not famous celebrities, nor wealthy socialite patrons, they differ from the artist’s previous series in that they are complete strangers, all black drag queens found by his assistants in local hangouts and paid a small modeling fee to pose for the artist. For this Ladies and Gentlemen series, Warhol was not looking for stars but for wannabes, as a reminder that ‘some stars still aren’t just like you and me and they too can strive for the glamour and beauty epitomized by Marilyn and Liz – everyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame.’ (ibid, p. 55). Evoking glamor as well as embodying the art of disguise, the present lot exists as a truly striking example of this unique series within Warhol’s oeuvre of portraiture.