Throughout his career, Andy Warhol was drawn to the theatrical sub-culture of drag. From his first treatment of the subject in the 1950's pen-and-ink drawings of Otto Fenn, to the fetishized diamond-dust high heels in his Shoes paintings of the 1980's, Warhol's fascination with the seedy glamour of drag found a wide range of expression in his work.
Prompted by Luciano Anselmino to create a portfolio of prints based on the transvestite stars of his films, Warhol sent assistants to the Gilded Grape, a bar on Eighth Avenue and 45th Street to find anonymous models with a less stylised look. Unaware of the photographer's identity and only paid by the half hour, ten responded, their subversive glamour the genesis for a series of paintings, drawings and prints from the mid-1970's, ambiguously titled Ladies and Gentlemen.
Manipulating these images of drag queens to emphasise the manufacture of a public persona that is different from the private self, Warhol reiterated a common theme manifest in his work since the inception of the Marilyn pictures. No personal detail appears in the title, the subjects' ambiguous identity is made redundant by the assimilation process Warhol applies to their faces, transforming them into paragons of a particular life-style.
Formed solely by the silkscreen colour on the canvas, the artificiality of Warhol's surface mirrors the contrivance of the subject. Warhol's language of objectivity transforms the drag queen into a carnivalesque commodity, a pantomime figure of the New York sub-culture. We are permitted the recognition of a reality, but one that is abstracted to reveal the fragmentation of the modern world.