The reverence Warhol held for Man Ray extended far past the source photograph of the present work to the large collection of photographs by Man Ray that he religiously collected. Warhol was naturally drawn to the enigmatic societal portraits Man Ray made of the celebrities and socialites that preceded his heyday. Images of key figures such as Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar and Nancy Cunard formed the basis of his collection that also counted a number of Man Ray’s revolutionary Solarizations and Rayographs. Yet as always, Warhol had a decidedly capricious opinion of his idol; in a self-recorded video diary taken in 1976 – only a few years after he produced the present work – Warhol claimed he “only really loved him [Man Ray], to be truthful…his name was the best thing about him” (Andy Warhol cited in: Ibid, p.231). While this is typical of Warhol’s interest in surface and the vapid celebrity of a name, it hardly tallies with the pride of place in which he installed a rare painting by Man Ray, Peinture Feminine (1954) – hung prominently in the sitting room of his New York home. In many ways, this attests to the complex relationship Warhol had with the world, one moment deeply involved in the richness of one man’s art, the next vulgarly obsessed with simply the power of one's name.
Man Ray shows Warhol’s paintbrush at its most free-spirited, a fact unusually acknowledged in his catalogue raisonné for the period: “Warhol’s portraits of Man Ray show just how far he was willing to push painterliness, how free-style the brush could become in his hands” (Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero, Eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1970-1974, Vol. 3, New York 2010, p.374). Built up through wet-on-wet paint, the present work is the most boldly simplified composition of colourways with bright – somewhat melancholic – blue flashes against the cool pink of Man Ray’s face. The most alive of the series, it is the only work out of the twelve listed in the catalogue raisonné in which Warhol playfully touches a bold dot of red paint to light the end of his cigar. Indeed, Warhol engaged in a more traditional form of portrait making than his pop aesthetic would usually reveal – 5 drawings of Man Ray attest to an artist working out preliminary compositions before transferring to canvas. Part of the 40 by 40 inch series, it is a substantially larger work than the two held in the Tate’s collection. The various styles of canvas and thick involved brushwork with which they were painted attests to Warhol’s regard for a photographer he admired and collected throughout the formative years of his career. It stands witness to a seminal meeting for Warhol on 30th November 1973 when two of the major artists of the Twentieth century traded portraits of each other, united by their love for film, and for the undeniable lure of their own celebrity.
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