Skulls have served as a memento mori in all artistic disciplines, from Shakespeare to Pieter Claesz to Stanley Kubrick. By employing them in his art, Warhol not only co-opted an easily legible symbol with obvious personal significance, but also placed himself within an artistic tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. There is thus an evident desire to personalize and historicize his work, however his fashion of representation is rather at odds with his subject matter. Although the flattening of the subject does not alleviate the power of the hollow eye-socket, or the grimace of death, Skull is not a wholly macabre piece. The vivacity of the colors belies the symbolic weight of a skull as a symbol of death, and the nature of shadows, that is, the ability to lend life to things that are lifeless, adds another dimension to what might otherwise be a staid reminder of mortality.
However, it should not be forgotten that even before the attempt on his life, Warhol fixated on death. When he started making portraits of Elizabeth Taylor it was while she was life-threateningly ill with pneumonia; his Marilyns were prompted by her tragic death. Warhol saw death as inherent to, and perhaps to an extent a part of, celebrity, and the commodification of the image after death as a removal of its power. Through repetition, the ghoulish and morbid elements of his portraits of Marilyn, his Electric Chairs, or indeed his Skull series, started to evaporate. Skull represents the culmination of a tradition that stretches back through all of Warhol’s work, a simultaneous disavowal of and profound respect for death.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale