"I'm fascinated by boys who spend their lives trying to be complete girls, because they have to work so hard - double-time - getting rid of all the tell-tale male signs and drawing in all the female signs. I'm not saying it's the right thing to do, I'm not saying it's a good idea, I'm not saying it's not self-defeating and self-destructive, and I'm not saying it's not possibly the single most absurd thing a man can do with his life. What I'm saying is, it is very hard work. You can't take that away from them. It's hard work to look like the complete opposite of what nature made you and then to be an imitation woman of what was only a fantasy woman in the first place. When they took the movie stars and stuck them in the kitchen, they weren't stars any more - they were just like you and me. Drag queens are reminders that some stars still aren't just like you and me" (A. Warhol quoted in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, New York, pp. 54-55).
Neither celebrities, nor friends or wealthy socialites, the subjects of Warhol's Ladies and Gentlemen series represent a unique category of the artist's portrait genre simply because they are strangers, even working-class nobodies. Quite the opposite of Warhol's typical models, the "girls" are all black transvestites whom his assistants found walking the streets of Greenwhich Village and paid a small modeling fee to strike a pose. Under Warhol's gaze, the subjects' status is elevated and granted equality within the artist's society.
Henry Geldzahler argued that this series of paintings reflects a breakthrough in Warhol's work because they "began to blur his self-set boundaries between the private and the acceptable...Through it all Andy maintained his virginal stance as a voyeur: never a participant, he just 'observed'. He wasn't seeking sexual partners here, but rather surrounding himself with a cloud of glamour. Lovely young things with whom he had never felt comfortable were now under his influence, in his charge, and like many a Hollywood magnate before him, he always had a few more 'stars' around than he could use, creating tensions that made the Factory crackle" (H. Geldzahler, "Andy Warhol: Virginal Voyeur," Andy Warhol Portraits of the Seventies and Eighties, London, 1993, p. 24).
The present work is a particularly striking example from the Ladies and Gentlemen series. Two figures nestle closely together, one partially concealing the other, in a classic three-quarter profile pose, as if sitting for the 20th century Gainsborough. Their femininity is depicted by their vibrant pink and red hair, lips, eyes and earrings with contrasting blue eyeshadow and low cut blouses. They are all artifice, yet their somber expressions reveal an underlying vulnerability. Warhol used seven screens of color and strong gestural brushstrokes to accentuate the figures, framing their faces. Geldzahler argues "The point was always to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and come up with a likeness that was recognizable but that existed in a 'world that never was', a sort of lusty yet ethereal limbo where everyone was a star, not only for fifteen minutes, but, in this incarnation caught permanently on canvas, 'forever', as in 'Diamonds are forever' (ibid, p. 26).