Executed in 1982, Self Portrait (Pair) firmly positioned Andy Warhol as the heir to a rich lineage of great masters from Art History tackling the subject of self-representation, ranging from Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt, to Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. Through his self-portraits, Warhol confronted the grand tradition of self-portraiture in a manner unprecedented within art history. Self-portraiture has historically been interpreted as a means of offering the viewer a rare and highly personal insight into the inner workings of the artist’s psychological state and self-perception. Rather than complying to these expectations of the subject matter, Warhol’s Self Portrait (Pair) depicts Andy Warhol in his self constructed role as an icon of popular culture, intentionally teasing the viewer with the expectation of catching a glimpse of the artist’s most intimate inner self. Robert Rosenblum describes Warhol’s self portraits as simultaneously “both startingly intimate and totally artificial” (Robert Rosenblum, ‘Andy Warhol’s Disguises’, in Andy Warhol, Self-Portraits, Ostfildern 2004, p. 21).
Warhol’s lifelong preoccupation with public image and beauty was inextricably linked with his perception of the inadequacies of his own physical appearance, and by the late 1980s his self-image was virtually a complete fabrication. Self-representation was the lifeblood of Warhol’s work. As his self-image become increasingly heavily constructed, Warhol retained a complicated relationship with his own image. Self Portrait (Pair) presents a nuanced and complicated ebb and flow between the artist as Andy Warhol, the Popular Culture icon, and Andrew Warhola, son of Austo-Hungarian immigrants. Of all his self-portraits, the present work taps into the great dichotomy between Warhol’s public character and his ever elusive private self. In Self Portrait (Pair), while the artist is presented as the ‘character’ of Andy Warhol, his tilted pose strikes a bashful, vulnerable tone as if seeking out some approval from the viewer. In this sense, the present work offers a strikingly intimate and self-conscious view of the artist, perhaps veering towards the self-reflective tone of infamous Rembrandt’s late self-portraits. As Dietmar Elgar describes the diptych “Warhol appears unusually shy and melancholy in these two images. Of all his self-portraits, Self Portrait (Pair) offers the least indication of Warhol’s aura as a Pop Art star” (Dietmar Elgar in: Ibid., p. 120).
Warhol’s elusive identity was as culturally significant as his artworks. “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures and there I am’, the artist said; ‘there’s nothing in between” (Andy Warhol cited in Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story’, in Los Angeles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p. 3). Perhaps no other artist’s image has become so completely synonymous with their creative output. Warhol's image, identity and cultural persona were inextricably bound to his art. By the 1980s, Warhol had spent decades keenly constructing his public image with a distinct awareness of the ‘self’ as an artificial, highly mediated construct. With his signature peroxide wigs, and trademark style of dress Warhol cemented himself as a figure greater cultural importance than his most famous celebrity muses, an icon in his own visual repertoire. As explained by Roland Wäspe, “of course he was already a cult figure in 1980… He had spent more than a decade systematically exploiting his own image – on behalf of his art and in parallel to it” (Roland Wäspe, ‘The Construction of a Pop Image’, in Andy Warhol, Self-Portraits, Ostfildern 2004, p. 73). Self Portrait (Diptych) perfectly encapsulates the artist’s skill in canonising his own image in popular visual culture.
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