More than any artist before him, Warhol’s image, identity and constructed public persona were inextricably bound to his art, making the Self-Portraits among the richest and most fertile sites for his artistic invention. Witnessing the conjunction of Warhol’s celebrity subject matter and his personal fame, they result in an ironic layering of subject and author. Renowned for his candid depictions of stage and screen luminaries, Warhol capitalized on the mechanics of an increasingly consumer-driven society when he packaged and commodified Marilyn, Elvis and Liz as marketable icons. Openly acknowledging the artifice and deception inherent in any form of representation, Warhol, in his 1960s Self-Portraits, presented himself as a constructed fiction, a series of personas as affected and contrived as his own public image.

WORK IN PROGRESS – DRAFT

 

“If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am; there’s nothing in between.” 

Warhol produced his first self-portraits while he was still at art school in Pittsburgh. One of his earliest examples gives a prediction of the many personas that Warhol would adopt during his lifetime, The Broad Gave Me My Face but I Can Pick My Own Nose is a youthful drawing of Warhol picking his own nose. In 1963, in a reversal of the traditional rules of portraiture, the Detroit collector Florence Barron commissioned Warhol to produce his own self-portrait. Based on a series of photos taken in a photo booth, they reveal Warhol dressed in dark glasses and the upturned collars of his overcoat, seemingly playing the role of the celebrities that he depicts—yet still hiding himself from the public he chose to court. As the critic Robert Rosenblum noted, “Equating himself with the wealthy, the chic and the famous, he tells us as much about himself as we would know about Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor from their images in his earlier paintings. But of course, this disguise as a celebrity can also be read as revelation of Warhol’s personal and professional ambitions in 1963 to become a star, his private persona hidden, his public persona only to be caught on the wing by a lucky photographer” (R. Rosenblum, “Andy Warhol’s Disguises” in D. Elger, ed., Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p.22).

At first glance, the artist’s second major group of self-portraits, painted in 1964, show a more confident Warhol with his chin up and shoulders back and dressed in a t-shirt, staring directly out at the camera. This confident pose seems at odds with his earlier shyness but this almost confrontational façade has the appearance of almost being too over-confident, the demeanour of someone who has conjured up every ounce of courage in his body to adopt the pretence of the tough guy.

By 1966, when the present work was painted, Warhol had decided to concentrate on his film making and—in public at least—he claimed to have ‘retired’ from painting.

“I don’t paint anymore. I gave it up about a year ago and just do movies now. I could do two things at the same time, but movies are more exciting” 

 

However in reality, he continued to do what excited him and produced some of the most celebrated paintings of his career. “A lot of people assume that he stopped painting,” recalled Ronnie Cutrone, “but that was sort of a public posture. Andy never stopped painting…He was doing Self-Portraits and there were Marilyns and Disasters hanging around, and Flowers were being done on the floor…I’d take the train in after high school, and Andy would let you stand next to him and watch him paint for hours” (R. Cuttone, quoted in ibid.).

“I’d prefer to remain a mystery; I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it different all the time I’m asked.”

 

In the latter part of the twentieth-century, Andy Warhol joined the ranks of Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso to take his place amongst the most important and influential self-portraitists in the history of art. Throughout his career, he turned to his own visage to create works such as the present painting, filled with immediacy, vivacity, and sleek conceptual cool. Indeed, the present work is one of the first ten self-portraits that Warhol ever created and thus holds immense significance. Through the present painting and its concise series, Warhol discovered himself as a subject. It was a turning point; a watershed moment that reverberated throughout his oeuvre. Renowned up to this point for his candid depictions of such film and media luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Liz Taylor, the moment that Warhol stepped out from behind the camera and into the glare of its flashbulb marked the moment that he joined their number; the moment that Warhol the icon was born – a paragon of the golden era of Pop and the ultimate arbiter of celebrity glamour.

 

Self-Portrait, 1964


 

Self-Portrait comes from a concise series of nine similarly titled works, each made in the same scale using silkscreen prints enlarged from the same shred of photographic source material. Warhol made these seminal paintings at the behest of the feted Detroit collector Florence Barron, who had been taken to his studio in 1963 by Ivan Karp, legendary dealer at the Leo Castelli Gallery, in order to discuss the commission of her own portrait. At the time, Warhol’s fame in the art world was blossoming after successful solo shows at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and the Stable Gallery in New York, and Barron wanted her own portrait done in his already iconic style. However, Karp managed to persuade both artist and patron that a self-portrait would be even more appropriate. The dealer, convinced that a self-portraiture series would propel Warhol to new heights, had been trying to persuade the artist for some time.

“You know, people want to see you. Your looks are responsible for a certain part of your fame – they feed the imagination”

(Ivan Karp cited in: Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York 1983, p. 52).

 

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1963-1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
20×16 inches (50.5 x 40.6 cm)

Warhol made Self-Portrait using images he had taken in a New York photo-booth. The use of such unconventional source material was, at this time, fiercely innovative, and added to the aura of technical invention that already surrounded this artist, who had pioneered the use of silkscreen printing in art only a couple of years previously. He had first made use of the photo-booth portrait in 1963, when he was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to illustrate an article and provided photographs from a Times Square Photomat of such subjects as painter Larry Poons, curator Henry Geldzahler, and composer La Monte Young. Soon after, Warhol decided to use this new medium to create an extraordinary portrait of Ethel Scull – the famous New York collector. The resultant painting is now one of the most celebrated works of Warhol’s early career, jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Years later, Scull described how, to create it, Warhol had taken her to a seedy amusement arcade on 42nd Street: “We were running from one booth to another, and he took all these pictures and they were drying all over the place… I was so pleased. I think I’ll go there for all my pictures from now on” (Ethel Scull cited in: Exh. Cat., Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Andy Warhol: Photography, 1999, p. 89).
ANDY WARHOL
Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1963
Gelatin silver print
7.9 x 1.1 inches (20 x 2.8 cm)

These miniature portraits from dime store photo-booths perfectly suited Warhol’s vision for a new type of art to suit the Pop era: they were mechanical, democratic, and quintessentially all-American. They are redolent of the Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles that had flooded his praxis already, with their format just as recognizable to the average American, and their sequence of four equally sized images even conveying a comparable sense of the well-stacked supermarket shelf. Moreover, in an age before photography was ubiquitous, these photo-booths subjected the quotidian everyman to the same paparazzi flash bulbs as the most glamorous celebrity. They presaged the polaroid portraits that populated his 1970s output and can be viewed as the early embodiment of Warhol’s oft-quoted vision: “In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes” (Andy Warhol cited in: Carter Ratcliff, ‘The Art Establishment: Rising Stars vs. the Machine’, New York Magazine, 27 November 1978, p. 54).

The use of these photo-booth portraits also had serious art historical significance. In elevating a quotidian printing method into a high art setting, and exploring notions of seriality, Warhol was working in the tradition of Robert Rauschenberg, whose experiments in this arena were paradigm shifting. Moreover, in appropriating the photo-booth strip – essentially a found object bearing no semblance of artistic gesture – Warhol was also undoubtedly engaging with Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the ‘readymade’. An avowed fan of Duchamp, Warhol made several short films of him in the course of the 1960s. This avant-garde appropriation of photo-booth strips would also provide precedent for countless artists to come, not least Francis Bacon. Bacon used photo-booth strips in a directly comparable manner to Warhol, similarly experimenting with slight changes in expression between different exposures, and similarly relying upon them as the immediate source material for self-portraits of searing vividity. We might particularly look to Bacon’s four-part self-portrait of 1967, which, uniquely for this artist, is arranged in vertical format, mimicking the structure of the photo-booth strip, and building on Warhol’s avant-garde precedent.

More than any artist before him, Warhol’s image, identity, and constructed public persona, were inextricably bound to his art. The self-portraits thus became the richest and most fertile sites for his own invention. Starting with the present painting, he commodified himself into an icon – as flat, shallow, and immediately identifiable as Elvis, Marilyn, or Liz. Indeed, his self-portraits are the ultimate example of the irony inherent to his oeuvre: proof that his pictures were designed not to portray or expose truth, but instead to acknowledge the artifice and deception inherent to any form of representation. In Self-Portrait, as much as in any of the self-portraits that followed, Warhol presents himself as a constructed fiction. We are reminded of the artist’s 1967 statement: “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am: there’s nothing in between” (Andy Warhol cited in: Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story’, Los Angles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p. 3).

 

There is perhaps no other artist more preoccupied with the depiction, control and manipulation of his own image than Andy Warhol. His first self-portrait series of 1963 powerfully captures the young artist at the very moment of his rise to fame as the illustrious poster boy of the Pop Art movement. Self-Portrait is from this important series, a small and exclusive group that comprises only nine single-panel paintings, and the only one painted red. Disguised in trench coat and sunglasses, the painting depicts the artist mugging for the photo-booth camera, as a celebrity hounded by paparazzi, seeking refuge from the glare of the public spotlight. By shielding his eyes with sunglasses, Warhol deliberately conceals his own image in Self-Portrait, which nonetheless displays a powerful frontality in which he stares directly out at the viewer. His left hand is caught mid-air, as if reaching for his tie, in a self-reflexive gesture that belies the vulnerability of a young artist just navigating the waters of fame and success. In this truly radical self-portrait, the viewer is privileged to witness the early beginnings of Warhol’s thoughtful construction of his own self-image, making it the most important personal statement that the artist made in the early 1960s.

Self-Portrait was painted at the end of 1963, one of the most important years in Warhol’s career. Some of the most coveted works were painted that year, from the Electric Chair and the Disaster series, to the fantastic large-scale Elvis paintings and the shimmering silver Liz series. Warhol naturally situated his own self-image within the same parameters of the uber-famous celebrities he depicted that year, as if letting the public know he was cementing himself within the upper echelons of society at this early date. It was the legendary dealer Ivan Karp of the Leo Castelli Gallery, who suggested to Warhol that he paint his first self-portrait. “You know, people want to see you. Your looks are responsible for a certain part of your fame—they feed the imagination” (I. Karp, quoted in C. Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p. 52).

One of the most radical aspects of Warhol’s Self-Portrait is his use of a photo-booth machine to render his own portrait, which he had used to great success in his tour-de-force, multi-panel portrait of Ethel Scull just a few months earlier. Warhol sent her in a taxi to Times Square, where he ordered her into an automatic, four-for-a-quarter photo-booth. He dropped quarters into the machine and she posed for about 100 shots. The leveling power of the photo-booth is what led to the greatness of this series, as it rendered its glamorous subject in the same popular, carnival-type amusement that anyone could purchase for only 25-cents a strip. The sequencing of the photo-booth pictures suggests a cinematic unfolding of events, along with an overt theatricality that must have appealed to the artist. Like a film strip, the photo-booth strip recorded in real time the exaggerated poses and primping of its subjects. In an era before the “selfie,” the photo-booth offered a unique opportunity to construct one’s own image in private, complete with a curtain that cordoned off the special interior world of the photo-booth space. So, the implied secret nature of the booth along with its questionable location in the seedy locale of Times Square must have made it all the more pertinent for Warhol’s endeavor. It was your own private performance, and it only cost a quarter.

The illicit quality evoked in Self-Portrait is further heightened by Warhol’s use of a single, bold hue—cadmium red light—as the painting’s dominant color. Warhol is a brilliant colorist, a salient fact that is often overlooked. In Self-Portrait, his use of “cadmium red light” indicates a special connection: it is the same color used in Warhol’s Red Marilyn of 1962 and recalls the look of Warhol’s most famous series, the Campbell’s Soup Cans. Red is perhaps the most arresting hue in Warhol’s entire color repertoire, and its long been associated with passion, from fury and wrath to ecstasy and ardor. The phrase “seeing red” describes a state of absolute anger so powerful that it clouds the vision, and matadors carry red capes in the final stage of bullfighting known as the tercio de muerte. In Warhol’s Self-Portrait, the use of red conveys a mysterious, otherworldly aura that works in tandem with the artist’s disguise to heighten the enigmatic quality of the piece. It seems to flood the painting with a kind of unnatural light, like the kind of lighting found in a photographer’s dark room. Indeed, even the term “red light” recalls the illicit activity of a “red light district” and draws us back to the lascivious goings-on of the photo-booth again. Historically, the color draws us instinctively to the suffused, ambient reds employed by Mark Rothko and the power of color to elicit strong emotional response. For some, it might represent an altogether ecclesiastical hue, calling to mind the blood of Christ, and in this light, might the photo-booth also remind Warhol of a confessional booth?

Considered in this light, Warhol’s Self-Portrait might be seen as a counterpart to the iconic four-part Self-Portrait of the same year that is rendered in a concert of blues, wherein the warmth of red counteracts the coolness of the blue. There is certainly a sense of continuum that exists among Warhol’s paintings. Again, Coplans writes: “The power of these images derives from their seriality: that there are not only many more than a few in any given series, but that it seems to the viewer there are many more than can possibly be counted. …Thus his series gives the appearance of being boundless, never finished and without wholeness…Warhol’s series, then, …speak of a continuum” (J. Coplans, Ibid., p. 49). Indeed, along the lower register of Self-Portrait, a small horizontal strip provides a small glimpse into the next photograph from the 4-part photo-booth strip, so that, even within a single painting, Warhol continues to reference himself.

Auction Results

 

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1963-64
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
20×16 inches (50.5 x 40.4 cm)
Sotheby’s London: 28 June 2017
GBP 6,008,750

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1963-1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
20×16 inches (50.5 x 40.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 11 November 2014
USD 11,365,000

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1963-1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, in four parts
Overall: 40×32 inches (101.6 x 81.3 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 10 May 2011
USD 38,442,500

 

Self-Portrait, 1966


 

Self-Portrait of 1966-67 is the truly superb archetype of Andy Warhol’s most famous self-representation of the 1960s. As stated in the 2004 catalogue raisonné, “Warhol’s 1966 Self-Portrait is probably the most well-known of the three versions he produced during the 1960s and, with his Self-Portrait of 1986, one of the most representative and iconic images of the artist.” (Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969Vol. 02B, New York, 2004, p. 227) With this legendary series of self-depiction, Warhol intently pursued the pure effects of color: the various layers comprising the instantly familiar schematic of his features becoming the vehicle to deliver startling chromatic effects. The present work is an outstanding paradigm of the corpus, incorporating five regions of sensational acrylic color: a field of Dioxazine purple is dominated by a flood of brilliant scarlet red, which overlies areas of pure cyan, deep turquoise and golden ochre. These sharply demarcated zones of color were meticulously organized by Warhol’s application of paint through acetate stencils, with the final silkscreen applying the red that defines the form. Appropriating as his source a highly-staged photograph that originally measured ten by eight inches but, crucially, was cropped to the square format, Warhol undermines the overtly dramatic chiaroscuro caught in the camera lens by playing with chromatic scale. While both the respective pairings of red and purple and turquoise and cyan hues possess a very similar tonal value, the red and the cyan are the most chromatically intense. An extraordinary effect is broadcast as, despite only moderate light and dark tonal contrast, the extreme color polarities lead our eye to interpret a dramatic sense of form in this painting. The purely aesthetic brilliance of the present work is augmented by the exceptional nature of its provenance, having been in the collection of Warhol’s lover of twelve years and collaborator Jed Johnson until his untimely death in 1996. Johnson, who met Warhol when he took a job sweeping floors at the Factory in 1968, subsequently directed some of the artist’s films such as Andy Warhol’s Bad before deciding to start a career as an interior designer based on his experience locating, renovating and decorating the townhouse on East 66th Street that became Andy’s and Jed’s home.For more than twenty years of his prodigious mature career, from his earliest series of Self-Portraits in 1963 to the final haunting examples of 1986, Andy Warhol determinedly and serially chronicled his own visage, creating a corpus of work that charts the course of his own legendary status. The emergence of the Self-Portraits signaled a turning point for Warhol: now, among the images of the rich and famous, he became an icon in his own visual repertoire. In 1963, the collector Florence Barron commissioned the artist’s first mature Self-Portrait, which was modeled on the portraits of Ethel Scull that he had created only months earlier. Using a series of photo booth images as his source, his countenance is masked by dark sunglasses and the graininess of the then-new screen-printing process. Warhol appears in these early canvases in a sequence of diverse poses, a compositional tactic that allowed him to explore the possibilities of variation within serial repetition. Like his spectacular multi-canvas Jackie paintings, these works possess a strong sense of temporality, resembling film strips that chronicle the passage of time. In his second series of Self-Portraits, from 1964, Warhol still used a photo booth image as his source, but chose only one exposure, effectively abandoning any reference to temporality. This single exposure was screened onto the surface of each of the ten canvases in the series in precisely the same way, with the only differentiation being the background color, which was applied locally by hand in the same manner as Warhol’s seminal paintings of late 1962 and early 1963, such as Troy, Marilyn, and Liz. It is this 1964 group that presages the single exposure portraits and progressively experimental approach to color that Warhol would ultimately arrive at in works such as Self-Portrait.

The 1966 self-portraits became a turning point for Warhol. Finally amongst the images of the rich and famous or the press images of death and disaster, he had become a celebrity in his own right, an element in his own visual repertoire. By this time Warhol was the central figure in both the New York art world and the wider social scene and had become an icon, a constant and glamorous figure who frequented the city’s art galleries, celebrity parties and nightclubs. Self-Portrait is as much about self-presentation–and self-celebration–as anything else. Here, he gazes out of the picture with an intense driven air. His pose tells of the thinker, the intellectual. This is a man who was single-handedly turning preconceptions upside down, a revolutionary, the pioneer of Pop. Now that he was known, a recognized face, it was only fitting that he should have enshrined himself amongst his gods. Not only does Self-Portrait capture Warhol, but it also captures the spirit of the age. His canvas combines the darkness of the Velvet Underground and the psychedelic palette of the Sixties. The presentation of the image reminds us of billboards–high culture and popular culture are combined to create a contemporary cocktail of an image. Self-Portrait throbs with the brooding energy and life of its age.

Leaning on the palm of his hand, his index and middle fingers extended on either side of his pursed lips, Warhol portrays himself in a moment of assured regard. The artist’s gaze engages the viewer with great attention, acknowledging as it beckons the voyeuristic exchange. The carefully fashioned image the artist constructed of himself marked an important departure from the earlier self-portraits in which he was either shielded from the public gaze behind dark sunglasses, or posed with an affectless, blank stare, a tabula rasa for self-projection by the viewer “to prove that it’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are” (www.warhol.org). As the critic and Warhol scholar David Bourdon points out, this series was pivotal in establishing the maturity of the artist: “[This series] marked a new development in his portraiture with increased emphasis on garish, non-natural color and avoidance of flesh tones…. The bold, jarring colors called attention to this face while simultaneously cancelling out most of his recognizable features. The self-portraits offered no detailed information about either his physiognomy or his psychological state; instead, they present him as a detached, shadowy, and elusive voyeur. They exemplified his ability to manipulate his public image, one of the recurring themes of his art. There he was… larger than life, yet often so abstract as to be difficult to recognize. The lurid, arbitrary hues suggest a chameleon personality–or a mutating persona– that assumes the coloration of its background. Andy appeared, in fact, to be hiding behind a camouflage of brilliant color” (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1995, p. 250).

If Andy Warhol’s serial depictions of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy decisively declare and eternally reinforce their celebrity, his Self-Portraits at once construct and immortalize his own fame. Utterly epochal, not just within his esteemed corpus but within the full scope of Pop culture in the second half of the Twentieth Century, Warhol’s 1966-67 Self-Portrait series “is probably the most well-known of the three versions he produced during the 1960s and, with his Self-Portrait of 1986, one of the most representative and iconic images of the artist.” (Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969Vol. 02B, New York, 2004, p. 227) The present example is exceptionally mesmerizing for its stunning chromatic vibrancy; as if casting his features in an infrared glow that presaged his later Reversal paintings, Warhol here immediately and unequivocally monumentalized his visage and, thereby, the persona he strove so deliberately to create.

Auction Results

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1966
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
22×22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 14 November 2016
USD 6,519,500

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1966
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
22×22 inches (55.8 x 55.8 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 11 November 2014
USD 3,245,000

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1966-1967
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
22×22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 13 May 2014
USD 4,645,000

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1966
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
22×22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 14 May 2013
USD 5,219,750

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1966
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
22.5 x 22.5 inches (57.2 x 57.2 cm)
Signed, inscribed and dated ‘Andy Warhol 66 Sidney Lewis’ (on the overlap)
Christie’s New-York: 7 November 2011
USD 3,106,700

 

 

Self-Portrait, 1986


 

Andy Warhol’s monumental Self Portrait from 1986 is a powerful image pulsates with energy conveyed through its confrontational frontality. Emerging from an inky black aura and shaded with deep contours, this most recognizable artist of all time simultaneously appears and disappears in front of our eyes.  As an artistic genre, self-portraiture by a painter is a traditionally evocative subject for critical study.  When the artist is Warhol, the theme is especially rich since the slippage between public and private identity was a central motif in his art as in his life.  Warhol’s radically innovative approach to subject matter and to artistic technique was ideal for investigation of the self-portrait and he would revisit the genre throughout his oeuvre. Warhol’s celebrity centered on the self-invented and intriguing public persona that he created during interviews and public events. Among his images of the famous that established Pop art in the 1960s, he also became an icon in his own visual repertoire.  Belonging to his 1986 self-portraits, the last before his untimely death, this painting encapsulates Warhol’s attitude toward presenting his outer self, tempting us with the thought that he might finally let us glimpse his most intimate inner self.

ANDY WARHOL
Self Portrait, 1986
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
108×108 inches (274.3 x 274.3 cm)

Although the present monumental purple and black canvas is by far the largest format for any Warhol self-portrait and could be viewed as the most disconnected from reality because of size alone, it is also the most raw and intimate look into the artist in the last months of his life.  Possibly it is a clarity that comes with approaching death that allowed Warhol to forgo his vanity and be confident enough to reveal his entire face.  Warhol was always intrigued by the human face.  Here, for the first time, the artist’s own features take center stage in an impactful masterpiece that leaves the artist exposed.  Resembling the canonical self-portraits from Dürer to Cézanne to Bacon, this is an intimate exploration of the self, unedited and brutally honest.  The present work is both a continuation of and assault on that tradition.  The process of the photographic silkscreen satisfied a need for resemblance and allowed Warhol to manipulate contrasts and highlight certain areas while blowing out others.  In the 1971 interview with Gretchen Berg “Nothing to Lose”, Warhol states, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am.  There’s nothing behind it.”  This was a prophetic statement of where his self-portrait painting would ultimately end.  In the present work, Warhol gives us 11,644 square inches of painting surface, and about half of that is his visage.  He is there for us to confront and yet disappears into inky black ominous darkness – a disembodied head poised for analysis.

The genesis of this series came from Anthony d’Offay, Warhol’s London dealer, who approached the artist about a solely self-portrait show.  Together they chose a photograph that would be the source of these works; a frontal portrait of Warhol wearing one of his signature wigs that was, at once, eerie, flamboyant and shocking.  Warhol then decided to use another image from the ‘fright wig’ group that was a far more severe and difficult portrayal of the artist, from which the present work would ultimately evolve.  In this image, Warhol’s eyes appear more deeply sunken below his spiked hair, his cheeks gaunt, slight jowls around his pursed lip and an incredibly penetrating stare. Using his face as an arena for technical and compositional experimentation, by now Warhol had harnessed and honed to sheer perfection the silkscreen process which he had introduced to fine art practice in the early 1960s.  The silkscreen captures every minutiae and contour of Warhol’s features.  When d’Offay discovered that Warhol had chosen a different image from the agreed upon version, he requested Warhol re-do the series for the exhibition, using the original choice with fuller features and a less severe overall effect.  The show was met with critical and commercial success.  D’Offay commented in 1986, “The feel of the show is so deathly; I mean there has always been death in his works, suicides, disasters, and so on.  But this has a terrible melancholy about it, a feeling of introspection, of looking backwards, and the one thing I kept thinking about was the relationship of this to, well, the great late self-portraits, people like – one doesn’t dare say it – Rembrandt, Van Gogh – a kind of moodiness, a kind of inwardness, a kind of darkness, a kind of loneliness and this is a whole new world for Andy, and it suddenly clicks into place with the whole history of tragic late self-portraiture.”  (Robert Rosenblum in a television interview with Anthony d’Offay from the time of Andy Warhol at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1986)

With the Death and Disaster series and the Electric Chairs, Warhol had exhibited a preoccupation with sudden death, even before Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and nearly killed him in 1968. In the present work, the mysterious image of the artist’s features seems to convey an awareness of his own impending death.  While there is no way that Warhol could have known what fate had in store for him, there is a tangible sense of the artist confronting his own mortality and many consider this series to be a memento mori.  As John Caldwell noted, “The new painting, coming as it does twenty years after the last great self-portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness.  Perhaps this comes in part from the fact that the artist’s neck is invisible, or it may derive from the oddly lit nimbus of hair that seems posed forever over his head.  Certainly the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon.” (A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie”, Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, January – February 1987, p. 9)

It is believed that only five of the 108 in. square format self-portraits depicting this exact image exist.  Three are known to be in museums: yellow and blue versions are in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and a green version at the Fort Worth Art Museum.  There is a red version in a private collection and the present purple version completes the quintet.  The rich purple gives this work a regal presence and recalls Warhol’s Lavender Disaster from 1963, also measuring 108 in. high, connecting an image of the Death and Disaster series with the present work.  This landmark painting is truly a culmination of everything Warhol stood for at the time and will be remembered for in art history – a potent combination of innovation, celebrity, vulnerability and death.

Completed shortly before his sudden death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s Self-Portrait, 1986 is rare in his series of late, great self-portraits, depicting the artist much larger than life-size, ‘up-close and personal’. With its searing and fiery colour combination of scarlet red and intense cadmium yellow, the closely cropped classic 40-inch square format, Warhol encourages us to stare deep into his darkened eyes and analyse every square inch of his visage. The artist’s sculpted appearance, heightened by the contrast between light and dark, makes the picture appear to act as both a self-examination as well as a self-presentation. This painting stands out in this renowned ‘fright wig’ series, of which other iterations depict the artist’s entire head and ‘fright wig’ against a deep black background. The Self-Portraits that span his career were the lifeblood of his work, and of all the self-portraits he made, it is the 1966 and 1986 series that are most revered. As Georg Frei and Neil Printz have said, ‘Warhol’s 1966 Self-Portrait is probably the most well-known of the three versions he produced during the 1960s and, with his Self-Portrait of 1986, one of the most representative and iconic images of the artist’ (G. Frei and N. Printz (eds.), The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2B, Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, London 2004, p. 227). Above all, Warhol’s self-portraits offer a series of theatrical masks that, even when seeming to confront the viewer with frightening intensity, evade our gaze. Nearly thirty years after the artist’s death, the haunting image that Warhol constructed of himself has become the lasting one in which we remember him by, adding poignancy to his own statement: ‘I paint pictures of myself to remind myself that I’m still around’ (A. Warhol quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London 1989, p. 480).

These last self-portraits focus entirely on the artist’s face and the strands of hair in his silver wig exploding from the monochromatic background. Throughout his career, Warhol had carefully constructed legends surrounding the inspirations for his art which often centred on chance encounters with friends and confidants. Indeed the ‘fright wig’ works are no exception: London-based dealer Anthony d’Offay prompted Warhol to think about doing a new series of Self-Portraits in the winter of 1985-1986: ‘At Christmas we visited a collector friend of Lucio Amelio who had a powerful red portrait of Beuys by Andy Warhol hanging in his house. As I looked at the painting I realized two things; first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th Century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later, I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous “fright wig”. One of the images had not only a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity. We agreed on the number of paintings and that some would have camouflage. When I returned to New York some weeks later the paintings were complete. The only problem was that Warhol had painted the demonic “Hammer House of Horror” image rather than the one we had chosen. I remonstrated with him and reminded him of our agreement. Without a demur he made all the pictures again but with the image we had first selected. And so between us we brought two great series of self-portraits into the world’ (Letter from Anthony d’Offay to D. Elger, 17 February 2004, quoted in D. Elger, ‘The Best American Invention – To be Able to Disappear’, D. Elger (ed.), Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, Ostfldern-Ruit, 2004, p. 127). D’Offay selected the Polaroid with Warhol’s hair lying across his forehead, while Warhol preferred the image with a vertical tuft of hair sprouting up from his wig.

 

Auction Results

ANDY WARHOL
Self Portrait
, 1986
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
80 x 80 ⅛ inches (203.2 x 203.5 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 11 November
USD 18,708,300

ANDY WARHOL
Self-Portrait, 1986
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
106.7 x 106.5 inches (271.2 x 270.5 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 10 May 2011
USD 27,522,500

ANDY WARHOL
Self Portrait, 1986
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
108×108 inches (274.3 x 274.3 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 10 May 2010
USD 32,562,500

 


 

MOVIE-MAKING AND SELF-PORTRAITURE
During the second half of the 1960s in particular, the period when he made Self-Portrait, Warhol had become a big name and was building his reputation in a variety of domains, be it organising happenings and parties, going onto the lecture circuit, employing an impersonator to take over his lectures, screening the movies that he was creating
during the period or promoting music. During this time, Warhol began to take increasing care with his public image and persona, becoming a Pop version of a media mogul, even producing the debut album of the Velvet Underground in 1967, the year of this work, and designing its iconic banana cover while also touring with them and participating in
their revolutionary concerts.

Warhol was still creating pictures, and was also exhibiting them, for instance in the one-man shows in Cologne, Paris and Hamburg dedicated to his Most Wanted Men, those declarations of Warhol as an artistic public enemy number one. Despite this, he claimed in 1966 that, ‘I don’t paint any more, I gave it up about a year ago and just do movies now,’ a notion clearly disproved on a grandiose scale by Self-Portrait (Warhol, quoted in G. Berg, ‘Andy Warhol: My True Story,’ 1966, pp. 85-96, K. Goldsmith (ed.), I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews: 1962-1987, New York 2004, p. 88). During that period, having founded his reputation on his pictures of soup cans and superstars, Warhol was becoming more interested in creating films, and it is in his movie-maker pose that he is shown in this picture, watching the world, sucking it in, as he did in his long-take films such as Sleep or Sunset. These were objective movies that chimed perfectly with his objective pictures of fragments of life and popular culture from the world around him, revelling in a similar cool detachment to that of Self-Portrait. Indeed, Warhol’s pose in this picture resembles his gaze from behind his camera, as he stood there watching the world go by, either in the form of the drifting conversations and copulations of his friends or in his screen tests, where he trained the camera on a subject for minutes on end, watching them perhaps smoke a cigar, eat a banana or simply do nothing.

WARHOL AND THE HISTORY OF SELF-PORTRAITURE
Self-portraiture has long been a genre that artists have used in order to demand attention as a serious artist, displaying their credentials, and also to explore and express their own state of mind, a product of intense introspection as well as self-promotion. Warhol’s Self-Portrait recalls Max Beckmann’s iconic Self-Portrait with Tuxedo of 1927, showing himself in a serious intellectual pose to position himself within society. He was also doubtlessly influenced by the self-portraits of Rembrandt, one of the other great chroniclers of his own appearance who, like Warhol, created likenesses of himself that serve as milestones guiding the viewer through his life and career. The self-portraits of Rembrandt have a twilit, scumbled appearance that is echoed in the dominant shadow of Warhol’s picture here, revealing the Pop artist tapping into a recognised imagery in order to turn it to his own purposes. Indeed, Warhol was looking at the entire history of self-portraiture, especially its increasing association with self-expression in the modern world. This was a development that is most perfectly encapsulated in the self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh: these have become canonical representations of the way that an artist can convey a state of mind, be it ecstatic or tormented, through the use of self-portraiture. Similarly the pictures of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, for instance the celebrated painting showing him smoking, convey some sense of the haunted persona, a sense of psychology. The self-analysis that these artists pioneered would be a gauntlet taken up by other artists throughout the Twentieth Century who increasingly used depictions of themselves combined with expressionistic brushwork to convey their state of mind. Warhol, aware of these associations, knew that looking at Self-Portrait, any viewer would see it in the context of the frankness of other twentieth-century examples of the genre by such artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso or Francis Bacon.
The shadowy Self-Portrait engages enthusiastically with the broody imagery of the genre, showing the artist demanding the respect due to his position in the avant garde. Yet Self-Portrait also reveals the iconoclastic and irreverent artist appropriating all this art history and twisting it to his own wry purposes. Warhol not only avoided but actively undermined all those ideas of self-expression and self-revelation espoused in the self-portrait in the Twentieth Century. This is clear in Self-Portrait: he has used the silkscreen process rather than the direct brush-and-canvas favoured by those other painters. While Self-Portrait has an appearance of self-examination, encapsulated in Warhol’s pensive attitude, the stylisation, with most of his face lost in the coagulation of red that conveys the shadow, means that it teeters towards abstraction and manages, like the artist’s own gaze, to remain inscrutable, limiting the amount of information conveyed. Warhol’s self-portrait is the result of a process of removals: he has used a photographic image, perhaps taken by someone else or, if not, by a self-timer that functioned like a remote control. In contrast to the frank self-portrayals of his predecessors, Self-Portrait reveals Warhol deliberately occupying ambiguous territory, challenging the viewer to call him out: is he thoughtful or is he striking a pose? Through the playful processes of detachment and the extreme control with which he sanctioned and controlled his own public image as his fame grew, Warhol paradoxically managed to achieve the desire he explained to Gretchen Berg the previous year: despite being increasingly in the public eye, ‘I’d prefer to remain a mystery, I never like to give my background, and anyway, I make it all up different every time I’m asked. It’s not just that it’s part of my image not to tell everything, it’s just that I forget what I said the day before and I have to make it all up over again. I don’t think I have an image, favourable or unfavourable’ (Warhol, quoted in Berg, op. cit., 2004, p. 87).