Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait, in which the artist wears a dramatically coiffed wig, often referred to as a "shock wig," is his last and perhaps best known series of self-portraits. Warhol created a series of these Self-Portraits, in a variety of colors, including blue, yellow and flesh-tone. The crisp quality of the present work's screening process, registering every nuance of the artist's features, is one of the most intricate realized by the artist.
Warhol's twin obsessions of celebrity and his own physical appearance collide in this later work, by which time the artist had become a minor celebrity. Although Warhol was famous within the art world throughout his career, he only crossed into the mainstream by appearing on popular television programs like The Love Boat and doing product endorsement for national and international ad campaigns. He became a household name and by 1982, Robert Hughes wrote that Warhol was the third most famous artist in America (second only to Andrew Wyeth and LeRoy Neiman) (Nothing If Not Critical, New York, 1992). He wore the shockwig in his most popular ads and to this day, the most lasting memory of Warhol comes from the images of the artist from the last decade of his life.
In the 1970's, Warhol's artistic persona as an impassive and detached observer was seen as a marketable commodity and he launched a second career as a model and product spokesperson. Warhol worked for the Zoli modeling agency (available for "Special Bookings Only") and he was featured in ads for Barney's, Sony and Drexel Burnam, among other companies. He also appeared in ads for Vidal Sassoon Hair Spray; although the artist was not classically handsome, his unmistakable hair style and trademark gravity-defying wigs lent their products a cutting edge which separated them from the other products marketed by uniformly beautiful models. Indeed, Warhol did not bring good looks to the equation, but his appearance cast an artistic glow on whatever he touched--if he was secretly mocking the products he was hawking, no one seemed to notice.
Self-Portrait is in the lineage of his earlier self-portraits, in which his expression and garb function as a kind of mask. In 1964, he painted himself as a street tough as well as a sunglasses-wearing hipster. In Self-Portrait, the artist hides behind his shockwig, his tight-lipped expression and an impenetrable gaze. Of all of the artist's self-portraits, Self-Portrait is the most confrontational and direct. In many ways, Self-Portrait is an image of the artist's advertising persona. The painting may be seen as a kind of mock advertisement for his other career, that of being an artist. Indeed, Warhol used one of his Self-Portrait paintings in an ad for Drexel Burnham -the ad is a fascinating "double self-portrait" of dualities- it is impossible to know what is the product, who is the "real" Andy Warhol and what is actually being sold.
In a last burst of creativity, Warhol created some of his most enduring works the last few years of his life, including his Self-Portraits, Camouflages and Last Supper paintings. Self-Portrait is an important late painting that is dripping with the delicious irony and sly humor that mark his best paintings.