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Contemporary Art

Warhol: Self-Control

Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait will lead the upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 28 June in London, marking the first time this iconic work has been offered at auction. Warhol worked on many self-portraits throughout his career, including his famous Fright Wig series from 1986 and Self-Portrait with Skull, 1978, however the present work, produced in 1963-64, is thought to be the very first he created, at the age of 35.

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ANDY WARHOL, SELF-PORTRAIT , 1964. ESTIMATE: £5,000,000—7,000,000. 

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.

The artist himself once stated: "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" (Gretchen Berg, Andy: My True Story, Los Angles Free Press, 17 March 1967).

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Warhol, Andy (1928-1987): Photobooth Self-Portrait, c. 1963. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art © Scala

In using pictures taken in a photo-booth as his source material, Warhol recognised their value in creating mass-produced imagery that was at once accessible, methodical, and democratic. This tapped into his long-standing fascination with popular culture in America, and the visual motifs that characterised 1960s mass culture. As familiar to the public as a can of Coca Cola or a tin of Campbell’s Soup, these small black and white bordered squares represented an innovation in mass production — a long-held fascination for Warhol. Like so many artists during the age of Pop art, he placed everyday objects and motifs out of context, transposing images onto canvas using silkscreen printing.

“In the age of Instagram, Warhol’s fabled prediction that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ has never felt more prophetic, and the artist’s first self-portraits - created using a strip of photographs taken in a New York dime store photo-booth - have never felt more relevant to contemporary culture. This is a work of immense art historical importance that marks the watershed moment when Warhol joined the canon of the greatest self-portraitists.” - James Sevier, Senior Specialist, Contemporary Art

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Andy Warhol (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)

The visual recognition of objects and brands — as well as public figures — was a recurring motif in Warhol’s work, with his own image eventually reaching iconic status through the themes the explored, the collaborations he undertook, and the company he kept. Many tastemakers of the day passed through the doors of Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory; so-called to reinforce his obsession with a mechanised approach to artistic production. Photographers, film-makers, and musicians were frequent fixtures in Warhol’s circle, enamoured as he was with recording the zeitgeist.

“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” (Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story’, Los Angles Free Press, 17 March 1967).

MAIN IMAGE: ANDY WARHOL, SELF-PORTRAIT, 1964. ESTIMATE: £5,000,000—7,000,000.

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