Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed ‘The Great One’, was a professional ice hockey player. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1961, he started playing for the National Hockey League at seventeen and by the early eighties he had already established himself as one of the sporting greats of his generation.
In 1983 the Canadian gallerist Frans Wyans commissioned Andy Warhol to produce a series of six portraits of Wayne Gretzky as part of a campaign to raise the profile of the Canadian art market. Following shortly after and surely inspired by Warhol’s celebrated ‘Athlete Series’, these portraits are a further departure from the film stars and musicians that dominated Warhol’s oeuvre of the sixties and seventies. Typically prescient, Warhol’s new focus on athletes reflected his understanding of the changing nature of celebrity in American popular culture; as he commented in an interview at the time, "He’s more than a hockey player, he’s an entertainer, an entertaining hockey player" (the artist in an interview with Matthew Flamm for CBC Radio News, January 1983).
Boldly coloured and visually striking, Wayne Gretzky is not only a portrait of a sporting legend, but representative of Warhol’s clear vision of the role of sporting celebrity in modern society.