"Everything is sort of artificial. I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts" (Andy Warhol as quoted in Andy Warhol A Retrospective, New York 1989, p. 461).
Andy Warhol is best known for his portraits of twentieth century celebrities, but his favorite subject, bordering on obsession, was himself. He created self-portraits throughout his career, from his earliest drawings from the 1940's, silkscreen works from the 1960's-1980's, as well as photo-booth photographs and stitched gelatin silver prints. Warhol changed his appearance frequently, using make-up, cosmetic surgery and his infamous shock wig at various stages of his life, all of which are well documented in his self-portraits.
Executed in 1979, Four Multicolored Self-Portraits is from the Reversal Series, which was created by reversing the tonal values of images of earlier paintings. In contrast to the blue monotone palette of the Self-Portrait, 1964 upon which it is derived, the present painting is predominantly black with highlights of electric blue, purple and orange. The 1964 painting is concurrent with Warhol's controversial series of portraits of fugitive criminals, Thirteen Most Wanted Men and both works have a mug shot quality. Warhol mock tough expression and sunglasses add to their rebelliousness look, albeit with tongue-in-cheek.
This self-portrait is one of a handful of images that he chose for the Reversal Series, for which the artist also revisited his iconic Marilyn Monroe, Campbell's Soup Cans, Car Crashes and Flower paintings. Indeed, this painting is itself a retrospective of sorts, showing the artist's use of his own photography, 1960's silkscreen transfer technique and autobiographical concerns combined with the flash and gestural overpainting of his later work.