Private Collection, Turin
Private Collection, Turin
Thence by descent to the present owner in 2000
Gerard Malanga quoted in: David Dalton, A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol, London 2003, p. 74.
Andy Warhol’s Flowers represent some of the most iconic works of the Pop era. Set against a monochrome background of black and white grass, bold pink and blue blooms vibrantly radiate with typical graphic effervescence. Following a suggestion from Henry Geldzahler, this series marked a transition in Warhol’s work from the Death and Disasters to a more life affirming subject. Sardonically taking on the genre of still life, Warhol sampled an image of hibiscus blooms and clothed them in the guise of a mass produced print, the likes of which echoed those contemporaneously found on shower curtains or wallpaper designs. Assembled by the present owner as a diptych, each canvas brilliantly exposes Warhol’s mastery of the aesthetic and conceptual approach of his subject matter, while their combined presentation underlines the artist’s obsession with the idea of a serial and infinite reproduction of imagery.
Inaugurating Warhol’s very first show with the legendary art dealer Leo Castelli in November 1964, the iconic Flowers stand at a crucial turning point in the artist’s career and mark his full ascension from commercial artist into the realm of high art. Preceded by important works such as the Death and Disaster and Marilyns, the Flowers form the culmination of Warhol’s painterly style during the course of the early 1960s and herald the artist’s move into more experimental mediums such as film and installation art. By adapting his ground-breaking silkscreen technique that he had first introduced in 1962, Warhol repeated almost ad absurdum the flower motif to immerse the entire exhibition space at Castelli’s gallery into a beautiful and meditative sea of flowers. Through the use of the square format, Warhol could further exploit the full curatorial potential of multiple orientations of the Flowers. The present diptych elicits subtle variances and rhythmic patterns across the matrix of their squares, which deftly contrasts the curvilinear motif of the quasi-abstract petals. Emphasised through the varied colour combinations, the Flowers demonstrate the sophistication of Warhol’s conceptual finesse. The inherent dichotomy of the playful and the sinister brilliantly exposes Warhol’s unparalleled visual language, conveying his absolute mastery of the subtle and the unspoken within his works. The Flower paintings are thus at once exalted, joyful, sunny, brightly coloured, decorative but also banal, dark, and deeply sinister.
Warhol sourced the original image for the Flowers in the June 1964 issue of the magazine Modern Photography, which featured a series of colour photographs of seven hibiscus blossoms taken by the editor Patricia Caulfield. The seriality of the images in Modern Photography undoubtedly appealed to Warhol's acute sensitivity towards image repetition; however, rather than transfering the entire page of the magazine with four rectangular images of flowers, he isolated and cropped a square composition to include four flowers from one of the reproduced photographs. This crop was then transferred onto acetate and its tonal range polarised to increase sharpness and provide the optimum template for the silkscreen to be made.
Heiner Bastian reflected on the powerful impact of Warhol's Flower series, suggesting that they convey "a virtual, painful stillness. Since they seemingly only live on the surface, in the stasis of their colouration, they also initiate only the one metamorphosis which is a fundamental tenet of Warhol's work: moments in a notion of transience. The flower pictures were for Everyman, they embodied Warhol's power of concretisation, the shortest possible route to stylisation, both open to psychological interpretation and an ephemeral symbol. But the flowers... were also to be read as metaphors for the flowers of death. Warhol's Flowers resist every philosophical transfiguration as effectively as the pictures of disasters and catastrophes which they now seem ever closer to" (Heiner Bastian quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2002, p. 33). Oscillating between the intangible transience of fame and the ephemeral imperative of death, Warhol’s Flowers serve as a powerful metaphor for the brevity of the very pillars of contemporary mass culture: celebrity, beauty, fame, and ultimately life itself.