Andy Warhol
andy warhol
Andy Warhol Foundation

Andy Warhol

Stamp and numbered
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
22 x 22in

Executed in 1986

Executed for an exhibition at the Anthony D'Offay Gallery in July of that year

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One of Warhol's last great series of Self Portraits. Those who were fortunate enough to attend the exhibition must have been moved by the striking images of Warhol. Approaching mortality, it was Warhol nearing the end, a journey almost complete. I recall seeing a similar photo of Warhol circa 1945 and there he looks little more than his seventeen years, young, happy and hopeful. Here, it's a haunting image; Warhol's expressionless but piecing eyes seem like shutters of a camera lense. They reveal eyes that have seen everything and have nothing more to see. Hollow, waiting, waiting for something.

Over 25 years since his death, the haunting image of himself that Warhol projects in these paintings is as powerful as ever. The 1960s had seen him transform himself (with the help of the sunglasses, wig and shy robotic demeanor) into a two dimensional icon of celebrity. Interestingly, to most people, it is exactly that transformation which makes Warhol the most famous artist from the 1960s to this day. It is part of the genius of Warhol which is as part of the DNA of the artist as much as anything he put to canvas (and boy, the power of his work grows stronger as each year passes). So it is easy to forget that by the 1980s Warhol's personal image had become a completely artificial facade of self invention. His pale pigmentless skin had been altered and tightened, and his sunken cheeks had been smoothed with collagen injections, he wore a variety of make-up and on his head, and capped it with one of his famous silver "fright wigs".

In the Self Portraits Warhol pulls no punches. Indeed, he exaggerates the strangeness of his appearance by having his wig stand wildly on end. It is a death head or death mask shrouded in darkness. Warhol has never looked more fragile. I haven't seen a portrait that conveys such a deep loneliness.

Of course it is poignant in relation to the fact that the following year saw his sudden and premature death. But more than that is that it recalls Warhol's famous maxim about finding the real Andy Warhol in the surface of his paintings.

As powerful as you will find in the art of anyone ever.

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