Julian Schnabel quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Shadow Paintings, 1989, p. 7
The mesmerizing and mysterious appearance of Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shadows is among the most beautiful and deeply enigmatic of Warhol’s late paintings. Oscillating between the abstraction of the image and the ephemeral effect of the medium, Diamond Dust Shadows embodies a myriad of Warholian tropes: the glitter of glamour and money, the radiance of religion, the complexity of perception within image repetition, and indeed the nature of painting itself. The Shadow series marked a new departure in Warhol’s career, away from the 1960s figurative works that depicted cultural icons and commodity symbols towards an idiom of abstraction that is also mirrored in the Rorschachs, Camouflage, and Oxidation series of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Created in 1979, Warhol’s Shadow paintings were the penultimate expression of this new direction in his oeuvre, executed both in more monochromatic palettes of creamy white or velvety black, as well as vivid colors against black. Marshalling the visual impact of contrasts – between light and dark, positive and negative - Warhol’s graphic and filmic eye is fully celebrated by this seductive series. While the stark juxtaposition of jewel-toned colors and deep black shadows animate the colored series of Shadows, the sparkling surface and ambiguous contrasts in the cool white and warmer off-white tones of the present work brings a deeper complexity to the shadow as signifier and subject. Indeed, the diptych Diamond Dust Shadows inhabits more fully the subtlety of shadows in that it illuminates as much as it obscures.
Based on photographs taken in Warhol’s famed New York City studio The Factory, the Shadows create a mood of ultimate intangibility. The shadow as a symbol for transience, and ultimately mortality, appears in a variety of works in Warhol’s last decade, amongst them the Skulls series from 1978. In fact, Warhol had also used the shadow as an effective instrument to mystify and disguise certain elements within major 1960s works such as the Death and Disaster series and his 1966-1967 Self Portrait. Repetition of the image only increased the challenge to grasp the “shadow” visually as well as metaphorically. The series of multi-colored Shadow paintings, originally conceived by Warhol as one work, includes one large installation of a total of 102 paintings in 17 different colors that now resides in the collection of the Dia Art Foundation and that was recently exhibited for the second time only in its entirety at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2014-15. Installed alongside each other, these Shadow paintings present the aspect of a song’s refrain or the appearance of a reel of film, spooling the same image across an almost limitless space. In her essay for the Tate Modern retrospective of Warhol’s work, curator Donna De Salvo extolled the series’ resonant content: “The Shadows have been discussed as existential statements, as everything and nothing, as something fleeting, changeable and as intangible as real shadows. They have also been characterised as commentary on the very act of painting.” (Donna De Salvo, “Afterimage,” in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol Retrospective, 2002, p. 50)
The present diptych honors this concept of seriality and repetition that lies at the very core of Warhol’s oeuvre and revolutionized the course of art in the 1960s. In a subtle balance between kinship versus contrast, the two canvases juxtapose the same image in alternate positive/negative coloration with the shadow of one in bright white and the shadow of the other in a light faintly golden hue. In the place of the colliding individuality of bold multi-colored Shadows, Warhol here employs the diamond dust surface which serves to unite the two canvases. In 1979 Rupert Smith introduced Warhol to diamond dust, eventually discovering the perfect type of ground glass that brought a wealth of allusions to Warhol’s work of this period. From the glitter of disco to the sheen of consumerism and finally the radiance of religious icons, this lustrous material that captures and projects light either evokes commercialism in his Diamond Dust Shoes or the sublime as beautifully embodied in Diamond Dust Shadows.
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