Infatuated with fame, fashion and Hollywood from an early age, Warhol sought out celebrity culture as a means of escaping his working-class childhood in Pittsburgh. Fresh out of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949, he immediately moved to New York in search of the thriving art scene and the glamour of the nightlife. Warhol gravitated to portraiture as a means of manifesting stardom. Following on from his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, his fascination with the visage of fame comes full circle at the end of his career; Warhol himself is now fully integrated into the gilded world of stars, supplying him with an unlimited list of subjects for his celebrity portraits. As with the present work, Warhol transitioned from appropriating press images to using his own polaroids – his portraits becoming distinctly personal to his vision.
Executed the same year as the couple’s marriage, Portrait of John McEnroe and Tatum O’Neal captures the innocence and naïveté of the newlyweds through pastel pinks and radiant yellows. O’Neal, the youngest winner of an Academy Award, and McEnroe, with seven Grand Slam wins to his name, are themselves depicted as a trophy on canvas. Henry Geldzahler reinforces this quality as “a sort of lusty yet ethereal limbo where everyone was a star, not only for fifteen minutes, but, in this incarnation caught permanently on canvas, ‘forever’, as in ‘Diamonds are forever’” (Henry Geldzahler, 'Andy Warhol: Virginal Voyeur', in: Exh Cat., Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andy Warhol: Portraits, 1993, p. 26).
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