- Andy Warhol
- acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
- 50.5 by 40.4 cm. 19 7/8 by 15 7/8 in.
- Executed in 1963-64.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985
St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen; Hanover, Sprengel Museum; and Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: Self Portraits, June 2004 - May 2005, p. 29, no. 2, illustrated in colour
Graz, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum, Warhol Wool Newman: Painting Real/Screening Real: Conner Lockhart Warhol, September 2009 - January 2010, p. 48, illustrated in colour; and p. 75, illustrated
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Accrochage 1, December 2010 - April 2011
Andy Warhol cited in: Exh. Cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet, With Andy Warhol, 1967, n.p.
In the latter part of the twentieth-century, Andy Warhol joined the ranks of Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso to take his place amongst the most important and influential self-portraitists in the history of art. Throughout his career, he turned to his own visage to create works such as the present painting, filled with immediacy, vivacity, and sleek conceptual cool. Indeed, the present work is one of the first ten self-portraits that Warhol ever created and thus holds immense significance. Through the present painting and its concise series, Warhol discovered himself as a subject. It was a turning point; a watershed moment that reverberated throughout his oeuvre. Renowned up to this point for his candid depictions of such film and media luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Liz Taylor, the moment that Warhol stepped out from behind the camera and into the glare of its flashbulb marked the moment that he joined their number; the moment that Warhol the icon was born – a paragon of the golden era of Pop and the ultimate arbiter of celebrity glamour.
Self-Portrait comes from a concise series of nine similarly titled works, each made in the same scale using silkscreen prints enlarged from the same shred of photographic source material. Warhol made these seminal paintings at the behest of the feted Detroit collector Florence Barron, who had been taken to his studio in 1963 by Ivan Karp, legendary dealer at the Leo Castelli Gallery, in order to discuss the commission of her own portrait. At the time, Warhol’s fame in the art world was blossoming after successful solo shows at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and the Stable Gallery in New York, and Barron wanted her own portrait done in his already iconic style. However, Karp managed to persuade both artist and patron that a self-portrait would be even more appropriate. The dealer, convinced that a self-portraiture series would propel Warhol to new heights, had been trying to persuade the artist for some time: “You know, people want to see you. Your looks are responsible for a certain part of your fame – they feed the imagination” (Ivan Karp cited in: Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York 1983, p. 52).
Warhol made Self-Portrait and the extant eight versions using images he had taken in a New York photo-booth. The use of such unconventional source material was, at this time, fiercely innovative, and added to the aura of technical invention that already surrounded this artist, who had pioneered the use of silkscreen printing in art only a couple of years previously. He had first made use of the photo-booth portrait in 1963, when he was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to illustrate an article, and provided photographs from a Times Square Photomat of such subjects as painter Larry Poons, curator Henry Geldzahler, and composer La Monte Young. Soon after, Warhol decided to use this new medium to create an extraordinary portrait of Ethel Scull – the famous New York collector. The resultant painting is now one of the most celebrated works of Warhol’s early career, jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Years later, Scull described how, to create it, Warhol had taken her to a seedy amusement arcade on 42nd Street: “We were running from one booth to another, and he took all these pictures and they were drying all over the place… I was so pleased. I think I’ll go there for all my pictures from now on” (Ethel Scull cited in: Exh. Cat., Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Andy Warhol: Photography, 1999, p. 89).
These miniature portraits from dime store photo-booths perfectly suited Warhol’s vision for a new type of art to suit the Pop era: they were mechanical, democratic, and quintessentially all-American. They are redolent of the Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles that had flooded his praxis already, with their format just as recognisable to the average American, and their sequence of four equally sized images even conveying a comparable sense of the well-stacked supermarket shelf. Moreover, in an age before photography was ubiquitous, these photo-booths subjected the quotidian everyman to the same paparazzi flash bulbs as the most glamorous celebrity. They presaged the polaroid portraits that populated his 1970s output, and can be viewed as the early embodiment of Warhol’s oft-quoted vision: “In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes” (Andy Warhol cited in: Carter Ratcliff, ‘The Art Establishment: Rising Stars vs. the Machine’, New York Magazine, 27 November 1978, p. 54).
The use of these photo-booth portraits also had serious art historical significance. In elevating a quotidian printing method into a high art setting, and exploring notions of seriality, Warhol was working in the tradition of Robert Rauschenberg, whose experiments in this arena were paradigm shifting. Moreover, in appropriating the photo-booth strip – essentially a found object bearing no semblance of artistic gesture – Warhol was also undoubtedly engaging with Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the ‘readymade’. An avowed fan of Duchamp, Warhol made several short films of him in the course of the 1960s. This avant-garde appropriation of photo-booth strips would also provide precedent for countless artists to come, not least Francis Bacon. Bacon used photo-booth strips in a directly comparable manner to Warhol, similarly experimenting with slight changes in expression between different exposures, and similarly relying upon them as the immediate source material for self-portraits of searing vividity. We might particularly look to Bacon’s four-part self-portrait of 1967, which, uniquely for this artist, is arranged in vertical format, mimicking the structure of the photo-booth strip, and building on Warhol’s avant-garde precedent.
Warhol considered his first engagements with self-depiction a consummate success, and clearly relished the end-to-end control that the discipline allowed him over the portraiture process. He revisited the genre throughout the 1960s, and periodically in the ensuing decades. In 1964, he created another series of self-portraits that heralded from Photomat source material. By this stage he was using a variety of coloured silkscreens to create a classic Pop image. By 1966, Warhol had the reached the peak of his creative confidence and the world had bestowed upon him the same degree of celebrity status that he had found so intriguing and captivating in those he chose to depict; the resultant self-portraits from this year clearly reflect this. In their creation, he abandoned the photo-booth, opting instead for a carefully posed photograph that shows him in pensive thought, half cast in shadow – his complete likeness still hidden from the viewer. In 1967, he continued along this line, with a series of works that showed him in complete profile, depicted in flat monochrome silkscreen ink, with half of his face teasingly turned from the viewer in complete preclusive profile. His self-portraits from later years are quite different, and reflect the growing concerns that he had with mortality as his life progressed. Warhol was shot in 1968 and, although he survived, themes related to the fragility of human life became ever more prominent in his praxis from this point on. We can observe this not only in the 1978 Self-Portrait with Skull, with its memento mori prop, but also in the famous Fright Wig series of 1986, in which Warhol showed himself confronting the reality of the passage of time with a Rembrandt-esque sense of poignancy.
More than any artist before him, Warhol’s image, identity, and constructed public persona, were inextricably bound to his art. The self-portraits thus became the richest and most fertile sites for his own invention. Starting with the present painting, he commodified himself into an icon – as flat, shallow, and immediately identifiable as Elvis, Marilyn, or Liz. Indeed, his self-portraits are the ultimate example of the irony inherent to his oeuvre: proof that his pictures were designed not to portray or expose truth, but instead to acknowledge the artifice and deception inherent to any form of representation. In Self-Portrait, as much as in any of the self-portraits that followed, Warhol presents himself as a constructed fiction. We are reminded of the artist’s 1967 statement: “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am: there’s nothing in between” (Andy Warhol cited in: Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story’, Los Angles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p. 3).