Warhol started to work on his Reversal series in 1979 after ten years of society dominated portraiture. Discovering that he could, by printing the negative image of his most famous subjects, reinvent his own art thus demonstrating the versatility and richness of his art.
The present work, dated 1979-86, was executed in 1986 and is one of the 'multicolour' Marilyns. This famous image of a tragic and glamourous celebrity had captivated Warhol since the early 1960s and has since become an icon of Pop Art and an instantly recognisable motif in Warhol's work.
Partly a pastiche of his earlier work and part reinvention, Warhol's treatment of his own imagery in this reversal painting is very much in keeping with the then current postmodernist aesthetic that deliberately set out to criticise and annul the traditional canons of art history and its hierarchical divisions between so-called 'high' and 'low' art.
Warhol is re-exploring the potential of the earlier works to become something new and 'other' from the 'icons of Pop' that art history has turned them into. By silkscreening the negative image of the original photograph and illuminating its shadows, the resultant image seemingly presents the alter-egos of these celebrated icons.
Against the pitch black background, Marilyn's face radiates with what David Bourdon has described as "a lurid, otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights". (D. Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York 1989, p. 378). This highly dramatic lighting lends Marilyn a theatrical quality while the black background and negative image appropriately gives the impression of a strip of celluloid film.