- Andy Warhol
- acrylic on canvas
Private Collection, New York
After a long and prolific career in which Warhol was consumed by themes of fame, death and mass commercialism, the artist began to dissociate himself from the subjects that had defined his artistic persona. In the late 1970s, Warhol initiated this divergence with the Oxidation paintings and continued it with the Shadow and Rorschach paintings of the 1980s. In all three series, Warhol produced canvases of monumental scale and presence which overwhelm the senses but refuse initial comprehension. Conceptually linked with the artist’s other renowned contemporaneous abstract series, Camouflage takes the innovation of the Shadow paintings a step further, developing the notion of reality as disguise by offering up a section of army camouflage for aesthetic scrutiny.
The large scale Camouflage murals have a seductive and suggestive star quality that Warhol always desired, and thus it is fitting that these canvases convey one of his final bursts of creativity. Using a sample of fabric purchased from an Army surplus store as his subject, Warhol manipulates the inherent properties of the camouflage pattern to entirely obfuscate any artistic impulse towards figuration or narrative. In a 1966 interview, the artist famously declared: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." In the present work Warhol wholly denies our attempts to glean any meaning from beneath the repeated pattern. Warhol's genius for irony is seemingly most dramatic in the employment of disguise in the act of revelation. Here, the abstract images refuse revelation and through this denial, the artist appears to be, in the final analysis, unknowable to the viewer.
References to popular culture, however subtle, are nevertheless inescapably present in Camouflage, as Warhol was highly conscious of camouflage as army “fashion.” By deliberately framing the camouflage as a decorative surface, Warhol enacts a typically camp subversion of the material's conventional macho and military associations. One of Warhol’s great associates and supporters, Bob Colacello, suggests that the Camouflage paintings demonstrate "an almost effortless ability to summon up an entire range of art historical references from Chinese landscapes to Monet's Water Lilies... Of course pretending he didn't know anything about art history was one of the many ways in which Warhol camouflaged himself.... For Warhol, the art of deception, the fun of fooling people, mystifying, hiding, lying – camouflaging, if you will – was a compulsion, a strategy, and a camp." (Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Camouflage, 1998, p. 8)