Alongside Warhol’s other iconic series, in particular those focusing on Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elvis, Warhol was able to create portraits of immense power in which the subject remains remote and at a distance, projecting a public rather than a personal image. Warhol instantly recognised the potential of the Lenin photograph, and was inspired to work on the series throughout 1986 as Klüser recalled, “We agreed that he would do a series of pictures in three different sizes, together with a set of drawings and collages and a silkscreen print edition… Our experiments with the prints over a period of several months had a considerable influence on the eventual look of the series as a whole. The range of colours was reduced, the drawing round the head was modified, and the background became a deep black, as in the original photograph…” (Bernd Klüser, in Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Galerie Bernd Klüser, Lenin by Warhol, 1987, p. 68). The use of colour within the series is more bold and definitive, in many respects, than within several of Warhol’s earlier series: the solid colour blocks of the background instil the portraits with an extraordinary sense of gravity and profundity, whilst the brushwork on the surface reinforces Lenin’s defined contours and re-emphasises the impression of strength. The result here is an immensely painting that brilliantly encapsulates Warhol’s extraordinary eye for colour, while presenting the viewer with a subversive reworking of the traditional portrait genre.
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