With its liquescent forms embellished with drops and speckles of paint this imposing pair of canvases sends the viewer on a journey of visual and conceptually complexity. Their scale and fluidity, combined with Warhol's embracing of the element of chance, were all key themes in his later work and nowhere do they come together with such beauty and precision as they do in his Rorschach canvases. Based on the amorphous inkblots developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach for psychological testing in the early twentieth century, these free-flowing forms intrigued Warhol and by bringing together the component of chance with the retention of an aspect of his beloved 'printing' technique, he continued to explore the visual and material properties of paint. A rare foray into the realm of abstraction, his Rorschach paintings mark the return to a concept Warhol had first investigated in his Oxidation paintings of the mid-1970s. These works continued to intrigue him and this magnificent pair of canvases becomes one of his final triumphant investigations into the aesthetics of the form and function of paint.
Ironically, Warhol's Rorschach paintings were one of the very few works where he had complete control of the composition without relying on pre-existing images. He mistakenly thought that part of the psychological testing process developed by Hermann Rorschach involved drawing the images as well as analysing them, "I thought that when you went to places like hospitals, they tell you to draw and make the Rorschach tests. I wish I'd known there was a set" (A. Warhol, quoted in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 394). The idea of using a Rorschach pattern as the subject for his painting was originally suggested to Warhol by his assistant, Jay Schriver. Warhol remembered making such patterns as exercises when he had been a student at the Carnegie Institute and instructed Schriver to make a series of inkblot studies which could be used as the basis for the present work. In their folding-over technique of printing, these Rorshachs' marked a translation of the original blotted-line technique that Warhol had used in his drawings of the 1950s and early '60s. 'When I used to draw,' Warhol remembered, 'to get a new kind of line - I just hated my lines - I used to draw that way. All my shoe drawings were done that way, with a blotted line. You could blot them together and get a repeat on the other side. It might have something to do with that. The Rorschach tests were hard to do.But I really worked hard to make them look interesting. It wasn't easy' (A. Warhol, R. Nickas, "Andy Warhol's Rorschach Test", Arts Magazine, October, 1986).
This series of paintings is part of a loose body of more abstract works that Warhol began to produce in the last two decades of his life. Along with his Oxidation paintings from the 1970s, Warhol's Rorschach are joined by his Camouflage works that were completed the year before he died. To some degree these works were Warhol's tribute to the great American tradition of Abstract Expressionism under which he'd grown up with in the 1950s. Warhol had always had a sneaking admiration for the power and audacity of these works and longed to try and repeat the same degree of shock and awe. As part of his continuous testing of artistic boundaries and his investigation of the inherent dualities of abstraction and representation, printing and painting and surface and meaning, these works are regarded as being among some of the most serious and intellectual of his career. The results of Warhol's incursion into abstraction delighted artists rather more used to Warhol's hard-edged Pop style than this more free-handed approach. Jasper Johns visited the studio and traded two works he owned for a pair of white-on-white Rorschach paintings that Warhol had produced.
The graceful and intertwined forms that make up these commanding and elegantly beautiful canvases have, unlike much of his other work, almost been emptied of any identifying content. Although this might seem to fly in the face of Warhol's pioneering attempts to abolish the debate surrounding 'high' and 'low' art, this work proves that he was still at the cutting edge of artistic production. The uninhibited methods by which he chose to execute this significant series testify to his strong desire to experiment with other types of art, even if he was railing against the established foundations of the very genre that he pioneered.
Painted in 1985 this work was executed just after Warhol moved into a new five-story studio building in the Midtown section of New York. The size of his new Factory meant that Warhol could begin working with canvases on a much grander scale than before and his Rorschach paintings were among the first canvases he produced in this new larger space. To achieve his compositions, Warhol poured black paint in abstract compositions onto one half of an unrolled canvas that had been laid out on the studio floor. The other half of the canvas was then placed over the top and pressed flat to ensure an even transfer of paint. The two leaves of canvas were then pulled apart to reveal a mirror image of Warhol's original composition.