Warhol's silkscreen paintings from the Death and Disaster of the early 1960s include some of the most powerful and haunting images in Modern art. For their graphic and direct presentation of death and suffering, they are without precedent. Far from being neutral, the documentary basis of the images gives them an emotional immediacy and a visceral poignancy without parallel in the realm of High Art. Most earlier attempts by painters to depict violence seem poetic and rhetorical by contrast.
The State of New York performed its last two executions by electrocution in March and August of 1963. This occasion may have prompted Warhol to begin his series of silkscreen paintings of the electric chair. It is not known, however, whether Warhol's paintings represent the chair that had been used at Sing Sing Penitentiary.
In 1964, Warhol and his studio assistant, the poet Gerard Malanga, made a work combining an image of an electrocution and a poem, that begins "The electric chair in a room made silent by signs/over the door,/The flames coming toward us--."
Concerning Warhol's Electric Chairs, Rainer Crone has written:
"The Electric Chair here is the symbol of the misuse of governmental sovereignty, an open confession of a deficiency in cultural develoment. For the observor, Warhol's Electric Chair is an electric chair, the object itself, in spite of the fact that it appears in a painting. He reflects on it as such--the painting becomes evidence in the historical process, the trial of history" (R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29).