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Andy Warhol Silkscreens
January 18 - May 26, 2009
In Andy Warhol Silkscreens, Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA) presents a select exhibition of work by an audacious pioneer who, by using images of popular American culture and commerce, altered perceptions about what constitutes art. The exhibition, opening on January 18 and continuing through May 26 in NCMA's Library Gallery, showcases some of Warhol's classic pop subjects among them Marilyn Monroe, Mao Tse-Tung, Superman, Campbell Soup Cans, Dollar Signs and Martha Graham/The Kick. In these and other prints, Warhol incorporates many of the same techniques that he used in his paintings, As a result, Warhol prints have soared in both esteem and value to the point that they're presently selling for what Warhol paintings might have fetched just a decade ago. (right: Andy Warhol, Superman (Myth Series), ca. 1981, Screen print with Diamond Dust, 38 x 38 inches. Private Collection)
No other artist is as much identified with Pop Art as Andy Warhol, dubbed the Prince of Pop by the media of his time. Warhol grew up in a Pittsburgh working class family and studied commercial art at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology. Upon his graduation in 1949 he went to New York where he worked in commercial advertising and as an illustrator for magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. In the 60s, Warhol began painting objects that were part of daily life, such as soup cans and Coke bottles. Soon Warhol became a famous figure in the New York art scene. From 1962 on he started making silkscreen prints of famous personalities like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Warhol challenged and even removed the line between fine art and commercial art used for magazines, comic books and advertising.
Essay for the exhibition
Andy Warhol Silkscreens
by Franklin Hill Perrell
Known as the "Prince of Pop," Andy Warhol revolutionized the art world. His work, with its immediate and forceful thrust, ironically drew upon everyday life and popular culture for its sources. Warhol turned the mundane into Pop icons; he also turned existing Pop icons into even bigger and more powerful emblems. His approach was to turn away from the dominant abstraction of the 1950s, and to appropriate pre-existing imagery in the spirit of Dada or anti-art from the early 20th century.
Warhol identified with his audience both as observer and consumer. He also utilized the commercial methods of image transcription derived from photography. His visual language was in sync with what he depicted and he dexterously produced it on a mass scale.
Warhol mastered the art of silkscreen printing, which unlike other printmaking procedures, renders an image directly onto the surface rather than by a transfer from one surface to another. Silhouettes of the desired forms are created, affixed to a frame upon which silk is stretched, and ink is pressed through the perforations. In some procedures, the gradated tones of a photograph can be mimicked to achieve this end. Warhol's work typically employs this approach in order to capture the primary image. Gestural suggestions of paint handling and solid expanses of color are added through a combination of sophisticated techniques. Like other artists of his generation, Warhol collaborated with professional printmaking studios to create multiples of his most desirable subjects.
To make each of these pieces, Warhol selected a source image: in the case of Marilyn Monroe this was a black and white studio photo; for Superman, a comic-book image; a photo booth snap shot for his own self portrait; package labels for the Campbell Soup Cans; and for Mao, the face featured on ubiquitous posters in China. Each of these was adapted (photo-mechanically) into a stencil which would convey the essential contours and shading of the image. This template was mounted into a framework upon a silk backing, then inked and printed. In some instances, popular subjects like Mao and Marilyn were recycled so that the same image could be issued in new colors. As a result, there are pink Marilyns, silver Marilyns, green Marilyns and other variations on this theme. For the Campbell Soup cans, most were done in the signature red, black and gold (though there were a few wildly colored variants). Warhol did versions of each of the 32 flavors of soup -- from Tomato to Oxtail -- that were available at the time. His primary interest was the market, so if there was a demand then he would issue and sell a new variety in order to satisfy it.
Many Warhol images, both in prints and paintings, are straight-on, full frame transcriptions. Others are cropped and emerge from the edge of the composition (as in the Self-Portrait with Shadow or the Superman). Warhol did introduce a lot of personal choice into his renderings; upon close examination they are not as straightforward as they seem. One tactic he adopted later in his career was to redraw by hand the contour of his source image. In his silkscreens, this became another stencil and was usually applied off-register, to add formal elements to the design, repeat the motif, and also suggest the irregularities associated with cheap mass printing.
Now one might raise the question, "Where is the art in all this?" Warhol was a highly skilled and innovative painter and printmaker who fused creativity with material branding and celebrity. It is well to remember that he was a graduate of Carnegie Mellon in his native Pittsburgh. Then he became one of the best paid commercial artists in advertising, shortly after his arrival in New York around 1950. He was already famous for his I. Miller shoe ads and there was virtually cult interest in his book art before he became noted for his original art. Warhol was a consummate designer, and everything he touched was imbued with his own distinctive qualities of graphic strength, humor, and at times, endearing charm. What seem to be tributes to American consumerism and its cult of celebrity have come, over time, to be perceived as frankly imitative and ironic tools of satire. Warhol himself said, "The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will." He died in 1987 after a great deal more than 15 minutes of fame, but his work and its strong cultural message live on.
About the author
Franklin Hill Perrell is the chief curator of Nassau County Museum of Art
Resource Library editor's note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on February 4, 2009 with permission of the author and the Nassau County Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on February 2, 2009.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Doris Meadows for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above essay.
Readers may also enjoy:
TFAO's Topics in American Representational Art provides resources on Printmaking
See from other websites, an essay on the artist by Lynne Cooke provided by the Dia Art Foundation, and
Andy Warhol, By Carter Ratcliff, Published 1991, ISBN: 978-1-55859-257-5. (online book excerpt available from Abbeville Press) (right: catalogue front cover courtesy Abbeville Press)
TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:
Absolut Warhola. This documentary explores Andy Warhol's Eastern European roots by travelling to Mikova, Slovakia, where his parents grew up, and interviewing members of his extended family: two cousins, two aunts, and a great-niece. Also interviewed are a Ruthenian Andy Warhol impersonator, and Dr. Michal Bycko, curator of the Andy Warhol museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia, who discusses the museum's mission and shows some of its rarer pieces. Directed and written by Stanislaw Mucha. c2001. 80 min. DVD 2348. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley. Title Note from Tower Video: "This lighthearted documentary traces the humble origins of artist and pop icon Andy Warhol back to two small, quiet villages in Eastern Europe. There, director Stanislaw Mucha interviews subjects ranging from Warhol's relatives to the curator of Warhola Museum, who seems to have much different criteria for choosing which works to display than a western counterpart would. Mucha finds that the common thread running through all of these people is that, even though they may not fully understand what brought their most famous son such worldwide acclaim, they are proud that one of their own has achieved such dizzy heights." (9/5/08 note: Google Video contains several clips from this video. Clips with 26 minutes of total footage in Slovak language with Dutch subtitling are available in 4 parts)
Andy Warhol is a 77 minute 1987 video which was the first major profile of the American Pop-Art cult leader since his death in 1987. It covers Warhol's life and work through interviews, film clips and conversations with members of his family and his "superstar" friends. Featured are conversations with a dozen of his closest associates -- including Ondlne, Viva, John Giorno, Brlgid Berlin and others -- discussing his family, colleagues, the art world, and his impact on society.The video was produced by RM Arts; London Weekend Television.
Andy Warhol: A Documentary (from American Masters). PBS says about this 240 minutes 2006 PBS Home Video DVD filmed in 16 x 9 aspect ratio: "Winner of the Peabody Award! No artist in the second half of the 20th century was more famous, or misunderstood, than Andy Warhol. This film explores his astonishing output from the late 1940s to his death in 1987. Obsessed with the desire to transcend his origins, Warhol grasped the realities of modern society and became the high priest of one of the most radical experiments in American culture, penetrating the barrier between art and commerce."
Andy Warhol: Life And Death is contained on two DVD discs totaling 81 minues. PBS says of this 2004 video: "Brilliant, complex artist, eccentric individual, tragic commercial and critical success. The mysterious Andy Warhol was all these, and more. But how much else was there to know? Life and Death probes the surreal man behind the surface, and the blurred reality he perceived, in a fascinating documentary style, part whispered fiction, part spoken opera, all reality,"
Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture was released in 2003 and is a 105 minute documentary on 2 tapes from Bfs Entertainment. Directed by Chris Rodley. Warhol was just as famous for being "Andy Warhol" as he was for his artwork. He was a celebrity's celebrity, yet he was also a shy, prolific artist who worked in everything from painting to film to music. This documentary provides a definitive look at Warhol's life and his creative process. Features rare audiotapes and films from the Warhol Foundation Archives in addition to interviews with Debbie Harry, Dennis Hopper and more. "Exhilaratingly thorough, a Complete Oxford English Dictionary of Warhol" (The Times). DVD :includes a Warhol chronology, filmography and more.
Biography: Andy Warhol. This video covers Pop artist Andy Warhol's life and work, from his paintings based on comic strips and photos of public personalities to his painted replicas of Campbell's Soup cans. 50 minutes. (quote courtesy Plains Art Msueum)
Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections. A film by Jonas Mekas. In this 1990 film Jonas Mekas chronicles not only the great pop artist, Andy Warhol, but also the social and cultural excitement that swirled around him, throbbing to a hypnotic Velvet Underground beat. This is a candid, relaxed film diary including his friends Barbara Rubin, Tuli Kupferberg, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Olovksy, Ed Sanders, Gerard Malanga, Storm De Hirsch and George Maciunas. 1997. 58 min. Video/C 4782. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Superstar - The Life & Times of Andy Warhol is an 87 minute 1991 documentary directed by Chuck Workman from Marylin Lewis Entertainment, released through Winstar Home Entertainment. A documentary about the painter Andy Warhol which traces his life from Pittsburgh schoolboy to pop art legend. The film includes a behind the scenes look at "Factory" life and several enigmatic interviews given by Warhol over the years, as well as an array of images from Warhol's art and films.
Visions of Warhol. Award presentation to Andy Warhol, 1963 / Jonas Mekas -- Andy Warhol's silver flotations, 1964 / Willard Maas -- Anthropological sketches : friendships and intersections : scenes from the life of Andy Warhol, 1963-90 / Jonas Mekas -- Andy Warhol, 1965 / Marie Menken -- Andy Warhol's exploding plastic inevitable, 1967 / Ronald Nameth. Scenes from the life of Andy Warhol, as seen by four pioneer avant-garde film-makers and close friends of the Pop-artist. Dist.: Electronic Arts Intermix. 82 min. Video/C MM1062. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Warhol is a 79 minute video which offers a profile of Andy Warhol's life and work examines a career that spanned painting, film, publishing, rock music, and television.
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