One of the few large-scale paintings in the series, with its blooming liquescent forms, Andy Warhol's commanding Rorschach sends the viewer on a journey of visual and conceptual complexity. The scale and fluidity, combined with the element of chance, were all key themes in Warhol's later work, and nowhere do they come together with such beauty and precision as they do in his Rorschach canvases. These free-flowing forms were inspired by the amorphous ink blots developed by the Swiss psychiatrist, Hermann Rorschach for psychological testing in the early twentieth century. A rare foray into the realm of abstraction, Warhol's Rorschach series marks the return to a concept Warhol had first investigated in his Oxidation paintings of the mid-1970s.
The elaborate flourishes of mirrored black pools and bold silhouettes, painted and then printed on an extraordinarily monumental scale, confront each viewer individually. Weaving its baroque contours throughout the canvas, the black ink possesses an almost ominous force. Morphing from shape to shape, the Rorschach's figure transforms meaning and representation with each onlooker.
Simultaneously, the viewer of the Rorschach becomes Warhol's patient and psychiatrist. A reflection of our own desires, fantasies, and imaginings, the composition can only ever be fully realized through the individual eyes of the observer. However, unaware that Rorschach's psychological evaluations were based on a set of ten standardized tests, Warhol had originally believed that the ink blot was the creation of the patient to be read as part of a mystic process of self-revelation. Intrigued by his own perception of the Rorschach, as well as its aesthetic intention to probe the boundaries between abstraction, representation, and meaning, Warhol initially intended to record his readings of the Rorschach paintings he had created. "I was trying to do these to actually read into them and write about them," he recalled, "but I never really had the time to do that. So I was going to hire somebody to read into them, to pretend that it was me, so that they'd be a little more interesting. Because all I would see would be a dog's face or something like a tree or a bird or a flower. Somebody else could see a lot more. But maybe they shouldn't have any reading into them at all. None at all" (A. Warhol, in J. D. Ketner II, Andy Warhol, The Last Decade, exh. cat., Milwaukee, 2009, p. 68). Thus as the Rorschach paintings transform from beautiful abstracts to loose figurations of our own imaginations, we are simultaneously exploring the inner psyche of the artist's mind during the time of their creation--Warhol's psychological self-portrait.
Originally suggested to Warhol by his assistant Jay Shriver, Warhol instructed Schriver to make a series of ink blot studies from which he would model his large-scale paintings. Echoing the original blotted-line technique that Warhol had implemented in his drawings of the 1950s and early 60s, his new mirrored abstractions were achieved through a fundamental print making method, folding an empty canvas over a freshly painted surface. "All my shoe drawings were done that way, with a blotted line," Warhol remembered. "You could blot them together and get a repeat on the other side...The Rorschach tests were hard to do. I love [the] idea that they don't have a 'look' to them. They should actually look terrible. But I really worked hard to make them look interesting. It wasn't easy" (A. Warhol, quoted in R. Nickas, "Andy Warhol's Rorschach Test," Arts Magazine, October, 1986).
In a Warholian mechanization of Jackson Pollock's drip dance, Warhol poured black paint in abstract compositions onto one half of an unrolled canvas that had been laid out over the studio floor. "So each painting was a new creation," explained Shriver. "We had these huge canvases that we had to fold over and press together so that the paint was evenly distributed on both halves of the canvas. We took some of the huge dowels, on which the canvases were shipped, and Andy, Augusto (Bugari), Benjamin (Liu) and myself would get on our hands and knees, rolling the dowels and patting the canvas to get an even pressure across the entire surface" (J. Shriver, quoted in J. D. Ketner II, op. cit., p. 45).
In their bravura drips, splashes and expressive forms, the Rorschach series can be seen as sophisticated parodies of Abstract Expressionism, much like the Oxidation paintings of the late 1970s. Long retaining a sneaking admiration of the power found within the canvases of the great Abstract Expressionists, Warhol's Oxidations and Rorschachs, accompanied by his Shadow and Camouflage paintings aim to encompass 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 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.
A timeless and constantly reinvigorated subject, Warhol explained of his Rorschach paintings, "Nothing can always be the subject of something. I mean, what's nice about those paintings is you could do them every five years...anytime you wanted to, when you had the time...because there's nothing to read into them...Because even if the paints stayed the same, everything else--and everyone else--would have changed" (A. Warhol, quoted in R. Dergan and L. Neri, (eds.), Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2006, p. 198). Due to its subjective nature, the Rorschach has become an image that transcends both time and place. Though predominantly functioning as Warhol's explorations into the history of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting, they remain as integrated into popular culture as never before. Contemporaneous motifs of Hermann Rorschach's original ink blots have been fused into music videos, album artwork and a Rorschach of Warhol's own creation even resides boldly over hip-hop artist, Jay-Z's best-selling book, Decoded, Jay-Z himself has a Rorschach painting over his fireplace, and further explored its mirrored effect in the music video for Paris with Kanye West. Reminiscent of fellow Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's infamous comic book paintings, Alan Moore's masked vigilante character, Rorschach, plays a starring role in both comic book and film adaptations of Moore's infamous comic series, Watchmen. The viewer of the Rorschach today is met with the impeccable beauty and mysterious psyche of the artist's original intent, now infused with a strand of Warhol's pioneered Pop movement.