"If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface and there I am. There's nothing behind it."
It was in the Fall of 1963 when Andy Warhol acquired the space at 231 East 47th Street that would become known as the Factory. This literal act of converting the artist's studio(a place traditionally devoted to the creation of a singular object) to a 'factory' (a place commonly utilized for the mechanical production of an object by a team of workers) marks one of the high points of Warhol's career and a defining moment of the Pop movement of the 1960's.
Following his first great success at his near sold-out show at Stable Gallery in November 1962, Warhol devoted himself to the large-scale production of silk-screened images. This choice of medium facilitated his approach to the idea of serial production, the repetition of motif and the distancing of the artist from the emotional involvement and the physical ritual of the creative process.
Warhol's unique photo-based silk-screen canvas portraits characteristically feature stark contrast in light and dark with little detail other than the most crucial linear element or body of color. This manipulation of an already manipulated image negates the viewer's ability to penetrate both the visual depth of field and the psychological identity of the subject. "I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective-images do" (A. Warhol, as quoted in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, New York, 1975, p. 69). Here Warhol captures the spirit of Duchamp's ready-made work as well as the painterly translation of emblematic imagery achieved by Jasper Johns.
This process also enables Warhol to deny, reconstruct or enhance the physical features that define one's self --features for which Warhol held a well-known insecurity. "Above all, Warhol's monumental treatment presents the face, the defining attribute of individual recognition, as a zone of potential transformation where cosmetic surgery promises the creation of beauty" (N. Baume, About Face: Andy Warhol Portraits, Cambridge, 1999, p. 92). Just as the interior of Warhol's Factory was transformed entirely in silver, here in Self-Portrait, Warhol transforms his hair-color to the same shimmering hue, bringing his eccentric persona to bear.
In Self-portrait, Warhol not only transcends the boundary of traditional portraiture (rendered obsolete in an age of mechanical reproduction), but also boldly includes himself in the pantheon of celebrity icons and cultural phenomenon to which he devoted so much attention in his career and private life. "The transformed Warhol finally found himself treated as an equal by the stars he so admired" (N. Hiromoto, Andy Warhol: From the Collection of Mugrabi, Tokyo, p. 42). Based on a Times Square photo booth snapshot and similar in style to his Pop works replicating consumer products, Self-Portrait resonates in its simplicity. Similar to Warhol's "Most Wanted Men" series in it mug-shot presentation, the artist's likeness is direct and no-nonsense.
The simplicity and restraint of this early image is a perfect bookend for a lifetime volume of personal documentary as compared to Warhol's ominous final self-portraits, the affected and theatrical Fright Wigs. As Heiner Bastian noted in the catalogue for the recent Tate Modern retrospection of the artist, "Warhol, the most important chronicler of the second half of the twentieth century, symbolizes in his work all the seeds of alienation that appeared in that century of fragmentation. (H. Bastian, Andy Warhol Retrospective, London, 2001, p. 36).
This significance of Self-Portrait 1964, and perhaps the ultimate form of irony is underscored by the fact that almost forty years since its conception the US Postal Service has just issued a stamp featuring this image. The Vice-Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, who dedicated the stamp proclaimed in August 2003, "This exciting new Andy Warhol stamp evokes the free and creative spirit in this country. We're sure it will be very popular with our customers and stamp collectors." Warhol's status as a Pop icon seems to have grown to greater proportions that perhaps even he could have envisioned.
c 2001 Andy Warhol Stamp, courtesy of USPS/Andy Warhol Self-Portrait, 1964 c 2003 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (ARS), New York
Andy Warhol with 2 Self-Portraits c 2003 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (ARS), New York
Maquette for Warhol's 1964 Self-Portraits The Archives of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., photograph by Richard Stone c 2003 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (ARS), New York