ANDY WARHOLDiamond Dust Shoes
- Andy Warhol
- Diamond Dust Shoes
- acrylic, diamond dust and silkscreen ink on canvas
Acquired from the above by the present owner
“I’m doing shoes because I’m going back to my roots. In fact, I think maybe I should do nothing but shoes from now on" (Andy Warhol cited in: Pat Hackett, The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York 1989, p. 306).
Effortlessly chic and dazzling, Diamond Dust Shoes is a quintessentially Warholian joy ride into his unmistakable Pop palette. Composed in 1980 as part of the series of the same name, the work at once creatively revisits Andy Warhol’s oldest artistic motifs of the high heel and stiletto, and incarnates the legendary New York discotheque culture – propelled by the prosperity of Reagan’s government – of the early 1980s. Evoking glitzy nights of dancing in the Studio 54 club sound tracked by the sumptuous analogue synthesisers of Italo-Disco songs, Diamond Dust Shoes epitomises Warhol’s reliquary fetishisation of the glamour and gloss exhibited at the high end of American pop culture. Exuding un-tempered indulgence in glam, drag, hyperbole and performance, this diamond-emblazoned image conjures nights of unparalleled luxury and euphoria; nights that cemented Warhol’s reputation as insatiable night owl and documenter of debauchery. And yet Warhol’s aesthetic contains the equivocal and delectable complexity of simultaneously making strange that which it celebrates. Deliberately isolated from its corresponding pair, each shoe comes apart from the feminine boudoir; leaving an otherworldly galaxy in which distant stars flicker and the shoes float, like unknown artefacts, into obscurity.
There is no symbol more enduringly important to Warhol’s oeuvre than the feminine shoe, and in a sense his career is founded on it. Arriving in New York in 1949, Warhol began to draw shoes commercially in 1950. So shrewd and imaginative were his illustrations that in 1955 he was illustrating marketing campaigns for the I Miller Shoe Company. Warhol received his first critical praise for this work, was presented with an award from the Art Director’s Club, and in 1956 had one of his shoe drawings displayed in an exhibition – Recent Drawings U.S.A – held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A year later, Warhol launched his own exhibition of gold shoe drawings at the Bodley Gallery. Warhol’s early 1960s exploration into the appropriative practices of Pop art saw him paint and parody clippings from shoe advertisements and comic strips involving heavily gendered, stiletto-clad feminine archetypes. Some of Warhol’s most important works – including the portraits of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, as well as the Disaster, Coca-Cola Bottles and Campbell’s Soup Cans series – were produced in 1962; but it was in this same year that he unpacked the symbolic content of shoes further with his Dance Diagrams. Addressing the very Golden age American dances subverted by the icons of pop that Warhol embraced, the Dance Diagrams transmuted instructions of how to perform these dances into diagrammatic forms on canvas.
The origins of Diamond Dust Shoes emerged as Halston, celebrity fashion designer and close friend of Warhol, sent a box of shoes to be photographed for an ad campaign. Warhol was inspired by the “ladies shoes in exuberantly disordered compositions that he arranged”, and gathered shoes of all shapes and sizes, some from his own collection, assembling them in his studio at 860 Broadway (David Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York 1991, p. 380). Arranging them on plain paper, he took a series of Polaroids, later choosing his favourite compositions for the series of paintings executed between 1980 and 1981. Concurrently, Warhol began to develop a new silk-screening technique involving the use of ‘diamond dust’, a material first presented to him by fellow artist Rupert Smith around 1979. Though enchanted by this new material, true ‘diamond dust’ proved too powdery as a medium; as such, Warhol was forced to seek an alternative. Smith ordered large crystals of pulverised glass from an industrial company in New Jersey; the coarser texture enabled Warhol to achieve the subtly raised sparkling surface he desired, resulting in a painterly effect that shimmers and sparkles, a perfect encapsulation of the glitz and glamour of fashion, society and consumption that embodies the very core of Warhol’s Pop aesthetic.
Indeed, the early 1980s were a period in which Warhol’s work rigorously interrogated the themes of autobiography and reflexivity. Warhol’s decision to reengage with shoes in 1980 immediately followed the completion of a series of Retrospective Paintings: postmodern collages of his most recognised images onto a single canvas. With an extra layer of abstraction, Warhol’s works of this period in effect place his previous works and their dominant themes in aesthetic parentheses; their principle subject-matter becoming not the ordinary objects of the Warholian gaze, but that very gaze itself. With its slippages and imperfections, the medium of silkscreen lends itself perfectly to this chasm of layered ironic distance. Through the Diamond Dust Shoes, the concept of serialisation itself is serialised; the concept of fetishisation, fetishised. Diamond dust was first presented to Warhol as potential medium in 1979, and Warhol was enamoured with its scintillating properties from the outset. Following initial difficulty with its implementation, Warhol received from Smith larger crystals of pulverised glass; crystals which facilitated adhesion to canvas in combination with acrylic and silkscreen ink. The sparkling, glistening nature of the present work grants it a remarkable ethereality: the perfect quality with which to convey Warhol’s distinctive form of parodic self-scrutiny.
And yet, perhaps more than any postmodern project, Diamond Dust Shoes enacts Warhol’s poignant recollection of the ardent passion from which his success originated; a reflection carried out in the sun-drenched autumn of his career. With its shimmering, coruscating diamond coating, the work perfectly metonymises the felt sexuality, unattainable opulence and indefinable mystique of a glamorous world into which the artist had not yet broken. Warhol thus recreates in the viewer by means of the present work that distinctive impression of exclusion from a charmed circle; an experience characterised principally by a paradoxical cocktail of bittersweet dissatisfaction and future-oriented optimism, and one whose acuity is increased by its resolution’s appearing forever out of reach. Distilling and concentrating this impression, the shoes appear to shine knowingly in the exhibition space, proposing to the viewer a tantalising invitation to an unknown world of sensuality and decadence. Here at 52 years old, living a life he has characterised as a bonus, Warhol constructs a brilliant – and pointedly 2-dimensional – reproduction of the fantasy he is believed by millions now to inhabit. As though collapsing substance to surface, the work bewitches and intoxicates: always flat, sparse, bright, and beyond.