With his face partially shrouded in darkness and the other half bathed in a warm, rich glow of golden light, this luxuriant self-portrait of Andy Warhol is one of the artist's most enigmatic and memorable canvases. Painted in 1966, this Self-Portrait follows two earlier series of paintings in which the artist paints himself hiding behind the upturned collar of his trench coat and dark sunglasses (late 1963), or staring nonchalantly out towards the viewer (1964). In Self-Portrait, Warhol makes direct contact with the viewer for the first time, gazing out directly and capturing them with the intensity of his stare. This direct connection between artist and viewer takes its cue from art history and yet, unlike many other celebrated self-portraitists such as Rembrandt and Courbet, Warhol does not open himself up to scrutiny, remaining tantalizingly mysterious--shrouded in mystery and intrigue--just like he was in real life and making this particular series of Self-Portraits arguably the most astute.
Against a background of sumptuous royal blue, Andy Warhol stares out from the surface of the canvas, engaging directly with the viewer with the intensity of his gaze. With his head resting on the palm of his left hand with two fingers pointing up towards his pursed lips, Warhol appears deep in thought, as if caught in mid-conversation trying to compose his thoughts. The left half of Warhol's face is shrouded in a layer of black silkscreened ink, except for slivers of the underlying layer of red and golden pigment that shines through, like flecks of blond hair caught in the evening sunlight. By contrast, the right side of the face is strongly bathed in warm tones, accentuating his features whilst at the same expunging the blemishes that pockmarked Warhol's face in real life and which made him supremely self-conscious. Appearing confident, yet still holding something back, the result is a powerful image of a man trying to project an image to the world, even if he is ultimately unsure of what that image should be.
By 1966, Warhol had decided to concentrate on his film making and--in public at least--he claimed to have 'retired' from painting, telling one interviewer, "I don't paint anymore. I gave it up about a year ago and just do movies now. I could do two things at the same time, but movies are more exciting" (A. Warhol, quoted by T. Scherman and D. Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 265). However in reality he continued to do what excited him and produced some of the most celebrated paintings of his career. "A lot of people assume that he stopped painting," recalled Ronnie Cutrone, "but that was sort of a public posture. Andy never stopped painting. He was doing Self-Portraits and there were Marilyns and Disasters hanging around, and Flowers were being done on the floor. I'd take the train in after high school, and Andy would let you stand next to him and watch him paint for hours" (R. Cuttone, quoted by T. Scherman and D. Dalton, ibid.).
Warhol was someone who adored cinema, "[He] worshipped the old stars of Hollywood--Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe--on bended knee; his home at 1342 Lexington Avenue was a shrine to Hollywood stars, from great divas like Garbo to frothy starlets and vacuous dreamboats like Tab Hunter, with breathless fan magazines littering the floor with the lives and loves and debased saints" (T. Scherman and D. Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 243). His understanding of the cinematic process played a significant role in the paintings of this period, and Self-Portrait displays evidence of this in the strong, almost theatrical, lighting which illuminates the right side of Warhol's face. Warhol's Self-Portrait takes its place in a rich tradition of portraiture which dates back many centuries, and one of which Warhol was fully aware. He would have been fully conversant with the great self-portraitists of art history. From Rembrandt to Courbet and Picasso to Schiele, the shadowy and introspective nature of Self-Portrait engages enthusiastically with the broody image of the genre. Although Warhol was an inherently modern painter, he was also a great appreciator of the traditions of his profession. Indeed, it was often only by mining the rich heritage of the medium that his work seemed so shockingly modern; the contemplative nature of Self-Portrait clearly recalling such masterpieces as Rodin's The Thinker and Courbet's Self-Portrait (Man with Pipe).
The 1966 self-portraits became a turning point for Warhol. Finally amongst the images of the rich and famous or the press images of death and disaster, he had become a celebrity in his own right, an element in his own visual repertoire. By this time Warhol was the central figure in both the New York art world and the wider social scene and had become an icon, a constant and glamorous figure who frequented the city's art galleries, celebrity parties and nightclubs. Self-Portrait is as much about self-presentation--and self-celebration--as anything else. Here, he gazes out of the picture with an intense driven air. His pose tells of the thinker, the intellectual. This is a man who was single-handedly turning preconceptions upside down, a revolutionary, the pioneer of Pop. Now that he was known, a recognized face, it was only fitting that he should have enshrined himself amongst his gods. Not only does Self-Portrait capture Warhol, but it also captures the spirit of the age. His canvas combines the darkness of the Velvet Underground and the psychedelic palette of the Sixties. The presentation of the image reminds us of billboards--high culture and popular culture are combined to create a contemporary cocktail of an image. Self-Portrait throbs with the brooding energy and life of its age.
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
Property of a West Coast Collection
Andy Warhol , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
Pasadena Art Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; London, Tate Gallery; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Andy Warhol, May 1970-June 1971, p. 94, no 61.
Seattle Art Museum; Denver Art Museum, Andy Warhol: Portraits, November 1976-January 1977.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
22 x 22 in. (55.9 x 55.9 cm.)
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, no. 231.
R. Crone, Das Bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, no. 392.
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1964-1969, vol. 02B, New York, 2004, pp. 234 and 254, no. 1880 (illustrated in color).
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Albert and Vera List, Greenwich, 1967
Private collection, Philadelphia, by descent from the above
Dominique Lévy Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2003