With the same razor sharp insight that animated his early Ad paintings from 1960-61, Andy Warhol returned to the reduced palette of black and white in 1985 and 1986. His ability to reveal the deep truths hidden in plain sight through elevating the everyday is exemplified in the appropriated advertisement, 'Self-Defense (Positive)'. The uncertainties and anxieties of modern society are laid bare in the hands of the Pop master. His serially printed graphics drawn from religious tracts, pop-music fan magazines, daily news and advertising produces an unsettling vision of the recent past.
Not one to shy away from the dark and macabre, Warhol also hints at violence by appropriating an ad with the text reading: 'Self-Defense Secrets Revealed' and 'Mugging Robbery Hoodlums.' We are reminded of the tangled limbs of his 'Car Crash' paintings, his 'Most Wanted Men', and 'Guns' series as part of the disasters of contemporary living. Warhol's black and white double images unmistakably demonstrate the ethical and political dimensions of his take on variation. Because we traditionally associate white with goodness and black with evil, the aesthetic choice between the white and black variations on the picture informs a certain ethical and political implication.
And while much of Warhol's work--through a greater or lesser extent--examines notions of death and mortality, Warhol himself was at pains to distance himself from the perceived glamour of violence:
'Some people, even intelligent people, say that violence can be beautiful. I can't understand that, because beautiful is some moments, and for me those moments are never violent' (A. Warhol, quoted in K. Honnef, 'Andy Warhol 1928-1987: Commerce into Art', Cologne, 2000, p. 58). As such, the question of authorship becomes the prominent idea within Warhol's black and white ad paintings.
'I'm confused about who the news belongs to,' wondered Warhol. "'I always have it in my head that if your name's in the news, then the news should be paying you. Because it's your news and they're taking it and selling it as their product. But then they always say that they're helping you, and that's true too, but still, if people didn't give the news their news, and if everybody kept their news to themselves, the news wouldn't have any news. So I guess you should pay each other. But I haven't figured it out fully yet' (A. Warhol, quoted in V. Fremont, 'Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol', New York, 2006, p. 188) This questioned authorship and hidden truths of Warhol's black and white paintings demonstrates the artist's unsurpassed skill in illuminating zeitgeists in stark and beautiful terms with his practice of elevating the everyday language of advertising to iconography.