By Sarah Balcombe
“Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see…And you live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.” — Andy Warhol, America, 1985
Flowers, soup cans and Brillo boxes are most commonly associated with Warhol and it is these ironic silkscreens, paintings and sculptures for which he is best known. Yet it is Warhol’s narrative of modern culture which is truly engaging and paradoxical. A product of the establishment and anti-establishment, Warhol strove to portray celebrity icons, and also those less celebrated.
With his effectual re-posting of Charles Moore’s photograph of Birmingham Alabama’s riots in Mustard Race Riot, 1963 above, his Ladies and Gentlemen series, 1975, below,
featuring trans-rights activists and his Jean-Michel Basquiat collaborations, see Paramount, 1984-5, below, Warhol acknowledged the less acknowledged, and fringe communities whilst continuing a preoccupation with capitalism and Hollywood.
Although Warhol continued to use repetition as an aesthetic device and a commentary on monetary value, he introduced a further element of abstraction, as shown in his Sixty-Three White Mona Lisa’s, 1979, above, a sophisticated adaption of his earlier Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, below, utilizing pattern and paint to obscure content.
In Camouflage Last Supper 1986, below,
Warhol similarly obscures another Leonardo da Vinci iconic painting, with the stronger fatigue pattern almost completely overwhelming the content. This obscurification can be seen as a more poignant expression of loss during the height of the AIDS crisis and shows a continuation of his fascination with pattern, abstraction and material as demonstrated in his experimental Shadow (Diamond Dust) and Oxidation Paintings in the late 1970s.
Shadow (Diamond Dust), 1979-9, above.
Oxidation Painting, 1978, Gold, metallic, pigment and urine on linen, below.
Visit Andy Warhol- From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney, before its closing on Sunday, to see another side of the artist. His work is so compelling and progressive that it bizarrely renders subsequent works by artists such as YBA’s Damien Hirst obsolete. The post-Warhol detached series of dots, butterflies, formaldehyde sharks and diamond encrusted skulls of the 1990s are a poor substitute to Warhol’s profound, yet obscured, expression of self, both in society and out of it.