"I'm doing shoes because I'm going back to my roots. In fact, I think maybe I should do nothing but shoes from now on" (A. Warhol quoted in P. Hackett, The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 306).
Beautifully stylized and archetypal in their simplicity, Andy Warhol presents the nostalgia and timelessness of the stiletto in his larger than life composition, Diamond Dust Shoes, from 1981. Arranged in a seemingly random but clearly staged way, each of Warhol's shoes possesses a distinct character in its color and positioning, but are, in fact, identical in their epitomizing of a classic sense of elegance, glamour and style. The final finesse of diamond dust to the finish of the canvas only heightens the allure of the shoes and mimics the high gloss finish on the pages of a fashion magazine. Less branded than many of Warhol's other object series, the shoes are anonymous; silent indicators of a beautiful lifestyle. Always possessing a flair for and interest in fashion, Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes both brought him back to his humble beginnings as well as displayed his continual interest in fashion and style.
Warhol came to New York in 1949 to pursue a career as a commercial illustrator, an art that, due to the rising influence of commercial photography, was dwindling. Despite this barrier, Warhol's distinctive, delicate renderings of shoes and other commercial items with their witty whimsicality soon found a market in magazines and newspapers. Soon after, he began to land an array of impressive campaigns, including advertisements for Neiman Marcus and Barney's New York, as well as a formative collaboration with Richard Avedon's fashion photos for a Mademoiselle magazine feature, "The Glass Slipper." Warhol's success in this field largely had to do with his ability to present a company's products in an elegant and refined way, yet still maintain a youthful and vivacious approach. Although his commissions ranged in scope and content, shoes clearly dominate this early output, both in his commercial endeavors as well as in his early sketches and drawings. Warhol revealed this early fascination with the shoe as a subject of study in modest ball-point pen drawings showing an array of shoes, as if scattered about the floor of a woman's boudoir. In Diamond Dust Shoes, the shoes are depicted in a similar fashion-as a laid out still life; a reflection of a young woman's closet. Warhol's flair for the extravagant, too, presented itself early, as evident in his gold leaf-plated Babs, an elegantly gilt stiletto drawing executed in 1956.
Throughout his career, Warhol was obsessed with luxury, beauty and fame. Evident from these early commissions as well as resonating throughout his career, Warhol constantly surrounded himself with beautiful, interesting and celebrated features of music, art, and fashion. Long before 1980, Warhol's own position as a celebrity in all three of these categories was solified, and, as he claimed, the decision to paint the Diamond Dust Shoes was due in large part to wanting to get back to his roots, most likely because of a clear nostalgia for this past moment in his life. Still Diamond Dust Shoes also signifies this glamorous, celebrity for which he was constantly drawn.
Despite the personal significance of the shoe motif to Warhol, the shoe is in itself a powerful signifier for femininity and sex. Going back an entire century, one of the most scandalous acts a lady could do was give a young suitor a glimpse of the ankle. In classic Hollywood romantic films, the camera would pan to the heroine's high-heel to see her foot dramatically pop as her hero swooped in for the long awaited kiss. In 1980, Warhol's iconic stiletto shoe in many ways resonate in the same way as it did in the 1950s, yet they possess a slight hard-edge feel, reflective of the underground punk scene of which Warhol had been a part. The contrast of the feminine pinks of the shoes with the severe black background accentuates this sentiment as well as makes it less innocent and more seductive. So while Warhol's inspiration began with nostalgia for his roots, the presentation of the motif is strictly 80s, and exists very much in the present.
Adding to its intrigue, none of the shoes exist in a pair; they are all individual. A pair of shoes reflects a direct relation to a utilitarian product; one wears shoes to protect their feet. When presented in this way as a group of individual objects, each shoe is isolated in its role as a symbol; an icon. With its synecdochal relationship to the body of a woman, the shoe, especially a stiletto, is a sex symbol and can even be extended to its representation of a foot fetish. Just as with many of his other object paintings, while the artist is interested in the form and shape of the object that he is painting, the object is always a larger representative of a bigger theme or sentiment. While the shoe differs from Warhol's Coca-Cola bottles, or a Campbell's Soup Can in its anonymity, the power here lies with the international signifier of female sexuality rather than with a commercial product. Of his 1950s shoe designs, curator Richard Martin explains the fascination of the shoe; "What is [a] High-Heeled Shoe... but a platonic shoe compounded of any and all fetishes and icons of foot and shoe configured to a starlet's dainty shoe...[or] Cinderella's fictitious shoe?" (R. Martin, The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997, p. 73).
Diamond Dust Shoes presents much of Warhol's signature convention of repetition and, just as a Marylin or a Marlon Brando, the shoes represent the spirit and marketability of a golden era romanticism; its glamour and literal glitz speaks for the moment when it was made, as well as a timeless reminder of universal tropes.
Diamond Dust Shoes
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks with diamond dust on canvas
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed and dated Andy Warhol 1980 (on the overlap)
Andy Warhol , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
Leverkusen, Museum Morsbroich,Andy Warhol-Zeichnungen und factory-Bilder, April-June 2001, p. 39 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais,Le grand monde d'Andy Warhol, March-July 2009, p. 232, no. 266 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
83¾ x 69½ in. (213.5 x 177 cm.)
Private collection, Switzerland
Private collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner