Warhol Selfportrait 1967
Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York and Washington 1970. no 232
When Warhol painted his 1967 Self-Portrait, he captured his most alluring and elusive star, Andy Warhol himself. Painting at the height of his early fame, following the overwhelming success of his exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Self-Portrait marks the conjunction of Warhol's celebrity subject matter and his persona! fame - an ironic layering of subject and author Warhol's celebrity was gained through the popularity of his appropriated images of Marilyn Monroe Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy, among others - depicting their public persona with the same cool style as the other consumer products that populated his early canvasses. Like the Campbell's Soup Cans the celebrities were imprinted in our cultural consciousness not as individuals but as marketable icons. By painting his self-portrait, Warhol went a step further by incorporating his growing presence in the media into his oeuvre. Feeding the public appetite for celebrity, he bestowed his own image with the iconic statue of a superstar. Thus, unlike any artist before him, Warhol's image, identity and cultural persona were inextricably tied to his art The silkscreen process was ideally suited to Warhol's temperament, as he was seeking to distance himself from the painterly process. Using mechanically printed images derived from photographs, Warhol found an alternative to the traditional hand-painted canvas that combined his graphic tatents and his adoption of an ironic, voyeuristic pose in contemporary society. In his choice of subject matter, Warhol appeared as an insightful commentator on our times; yet as an interview subject, he was elusive and elliptical. By the time of the 1966 self-portraits. Warhol had announced his retirement from painting, and his creative energies were now consumed by the mechanical art of filmmaking, becoming a darling of underground films with the release of The Chelsea Girls in December 1966. With the growing fame of Edie Sedgwick, Baby Jane Holzer and Ultra Violet. Warhol was now creating his own galaxy of beautiful people and movie stars for the public consumption By choosing his own image as subject, and by posing in a classic, male movie star fashion, Warhol is ironically rnythologizing himself Self-Portrait offers an image of the artist as celluloid-worthy and sultry as any leading man, photographed in the half-shadow of the dramatic movie studio still of the 1930s and 1940s. Yet, the shadow also serves to obscure his features, preserving the cool and detached pose with an unabashedly distant and indistinct gaze
At the urging of Ivan Karp. Warhol painted his first series of self-portraits in 1964. Karp had reminded the artist that "people want to see you. Your looks are responsible for a certain part of your fame - they feed the imagination." (Carter Ratcliff, Warhol, New York, 1983, p 53). The 1964 paintings, based on the photo-booth pictures of the artist in disheveled, quirky poses, are in sharp contrast to the more subtly complex 1966 self-portraits. As Carter Ratcliff observed, "the 1964 self-portraits are warm-ups for the ones that Warhol made two years later, which now serve as icons of the Pop era - blank, yet intricately articulated, with their rough screenprinting, garish colors, and the peculiar dignity with which Warhol rests his chin in his hand. One of his fingers crosses his lips, as if to repeat the injunction of the Electric Chair paintings -'silence'." (Ibid., p. 52)
Without exception, Warhol's choice of subject was considered and calculated throughout his oeuvre. Like Self-Portrait, the most compelling paintings embody a striking confluence of contradictions. Drawn to the glitter of fame, Warhol nonetheless chose to portray the specific personalities whose public image belied their inner turmoil or tragic lives in Self-Portrait, Warhol is his own paradox - the observer is being observed, the shy and non-communicative person as available icon, the insecure artist as successful celebrity. With characteristic poignancy and aplomb, Warhol stated, "I'd prefer to remain a mystery. \ never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it different ail the time I'm asked It's not just that it's a part of my image not to tell everything, it's just that I forget what! said the day before, and I have to make it up all over again " (Exh. Cat., Stockholm, Moderna Musset, Andy Warhol, 1967)
Despite the emotional impact that self-portraiture implies, Warhol's painting remains an essentially modern articulation of structure and form. In this particular canvas, the uniform, planar silver ground is starkly vibrant in contrast to the purpie screening of Warhol and his shadow. Broken down into bold abstract passages, the unarticulated features are nevertheless seared into our mind's eye with the force of the contrasting positive/negative of his palette. In this 1966 self-portrait series. Warhol for the first time, abandons the suggestion of pink flesh-colored tones, and blond or black hair As in the colored Campbell's Soup Cans series of 1965, Warhol transforms one of his signature subjects through a prism of 1960's Day-Glo colors, adapting the image to the times that swirled more and more around him in his fame and celebrity. The lasting visual power of the optically playful purple and silver Self-Portrait lies in the enigmatic identity of its subject, the bold directness of its surface allure, and its role as a mirror of its time.