signed and dated 1976 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
"We would ask them to pose for 'a friend' for $50 an hour. The next day, they'd appear at the Factory and Andy, whom we never introduced by name, would take their Polaroids. And the next time we saw them at the Gilded Grape, they invariably would say, "Tell your friend I do a lot more for fifty bucks"." - Bob Colacello
Begun in 1975, Andy Warhol's celebrated Ladies and Gentlemen series was the first major thematic group of works based on his use of Polaroid photographs. Unlike his portraits from the 1960s, Warhol's portraits of the 1970s and 80s were made primarily using photographs he had taken himself and reveal his first experimentations with the Polaroid camera. A perfect vehicle for capturing his parading circus of Factory groupies, celebrities and socialites, these snap-shots would allow Warhol to capture hundreds of the expressions, gestures and moments he sought to reveal in his subjects.
As Warhol's clever title implies, these subjects are ladies in terms of gender and gentlemen in terms of sex. His sitters in this series consisted of drag queens and transvestites who had been prominent in his Factory crowd and were featured in many of his films. As Vincent Fremont reflects, "Even though Andy's portrait sittings were relatively short in the classic sense, I think most people came away from the sittings interested in Andy, the artist. He made it exciting and special to pose for him. When Andy was working on a series of paintings entitled "Ladies and Gentlemen," a number of transvestites were invited up to the studio to be photographed. Bob Colacello found most of them at a club called The Gilded Grape. After the photo session, I would hand the subjects a check and send them over to the bank. Usually they would not have any identification, so the bank would call me and ask if I knew a Helen or a Harry Morales! I do not remember if they knew who Andy was, but the photo sessions were wonderful for every one of them. They were able to do their favorite poses and act glamorous for Andy's camera."
The present work from 1976 is a striking example from the series exhibiting vibrant color and bold shape. Using watermelon colors of pink and green for his backdrop, Warhol compartmentalizes his color, creating large geometric sections of strong, flat color. His subject emerges from this painterly ground in a dramatic pose, her chin resting tenderly on her hand and gazing seductively from out under her long, dark eyelashes out toward the viewer. Her dramatic eye make-up and bright red lipstick further create a sense of glamour and intrigue.
The Ladies and Gentlemen paintings are among Warhol's most abstract portraits. A general feature these works share is the sweeping zones of intense, clashing color. The figure-ground relation is pushed to new extremes and the dissonance between silk-screened and painted ground implies a further abstraction of the self. These glamorous portraits at once created an illusion of the celebrity. Yet, they are far from Warhol's earlier iconic Jackie or Marilyn portraits. In Ladies and Gentlemen, their striking poses, tousled hair and lavish make-up and accessories immediately elevated their status from drag queen to icon. In true Warhol fashion, he believed anyone could become identical to the stars. Warhol's ladies and gentleman pictured have no proper names. In the absence of specific names, they remain nobodies. Attaining fame necessarily involves making a name for oneself, and these sitters will never be stars. Instead these ladies and gentlemen represent the abstract notion of celebrity.
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