Andy Warhol
andy warhol shadow (1978)
Andy Warhol Foundation

Shadow (1978)
Andy Warhol

synthetic polymer silkscreen inks on canvas
76 x 52 in.

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"There is a lot of them, all of the images of Andy's paintings have passed through the light and shadow of these paintings, bolstering up and heralding in this vision of the existential." (Julian Schnabel: preface to the 1989 exhibition Andy Warhol : Shadow Paintings exhib. Cat. Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1989' p.,7.)

Much of Warhol's work - from his celebrity portraits to the Death and Disaster paintings - exhibits the artist's continuing fascination with the shadowy underside of modern life. In the 1970s this fascination was reflected in the artist's conscious use of the lenthening shadows which began to appear in his work with ever-increasing prominence until in 1978 an enigmatic shadow itself became the sole subject of a series of outstanding paintings that Warhol made for the Lone Star Foundation in Manhatten.

Consisting of a series of large identically sized silkscreen paintwings which collectively formed a continuous frieze of ambiguous and seemingly abstract colour and form, Warhol's aim with these works was to creat a complete painterly environment made up of numerous seemingly identical but in fact distinctly individual parts. "I called them Shadows" he said "because they are based on a shadow of my office". Each painting depicts the enigmatic silhouette of a shadow cast by a cardboard maquette falling against a wall. The cardboard maquettes had been made specifically for the purpose of these paintings by Warhol's assistant Ronnie Cutrone and were deliberately made into ambiguous shapes so as to reiterate the shadow's ability to exist on the borderline between form and the formless. As an image, the shadow particularly appealed to Warhol because of this quality. Like his paintings, a shadow is essentially an abstract two-dimensional projection of a solid form. It is perceptibly real and physical, but at the same time evanescent and insubstantial. It also exhibits what David Bourdon has called "a phantom-like and illusory presence" that Warhol found intriguing. As has been writtrn about the Shadows paintings, in these works, "no essence is revealed, no single truth asserts itself. The experience is one of a late twentieth century simulated landscape, everything is surface and nothing but surface."(Donna de Salvo "Afterimage" in Andy Warhol exhib. Cat., Tate Gallery, London, 2002, p.51.)

andy warhol shadow painting
Cardboard maquette for Warhol's Shadow paintings.

Following on the heels of the artist's series of paintings of skulls Warhol's Shadows have often been seen as pointing to a sense of transience - suggesting a sense of meditative distance from the world of objective reality on Warhol's part and therefore also perhaps pointing to a preoccupation with death. Warhol himself deliberately subverted these heavier interpretations of the paintings by referring to them as "disco decor" and used the installation at the Lone Star Foundation (now the Dia Art Foundation) as a backdrop for a fashion shoot for the April 1979 edition of his magazine Interview.

This multi-functional bridging of the barriers between art and decoration is typical of much of Warhol's approach to installation and recalls his cow wallpaper and his installation of Mao Tse Tung paintings laid over Mao wallpaper that he had used in Paris in 1974 to create what he called "a colorful, decorative salon". In using the Shadow paintings in such a way Warhol was deliberately juxtaposing their ambiguous immateriality with the supposed reality of the physically real fashion models in front of them. In this way the film-strip-like sequential progression of each unique painting reinforces the sense of the paintings' immateriality and draws attention to the fact that in the Shadows Warhol had created a powerful and hauntingly iconic image out of nothing.

In this sense Warhol's Shadow paintings approach the realm of pure abstraction that Warhol would most convincingly explore in his Camouflage paintings in the 1980s. With their broad sweeps of colour and often incorporating heavily squeegeed streaks of paint in the "heroic" manner of the brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionist painters like Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning there is also an element of parody in the Shadows. An element that perhaps mocks the New York School's lofty claims of using abstraction as a path to the spiritual and one that evidently has clear parallels with the notion of "apocalyptic wallpaper" - a derogatory reference often applied to Abstract Expressionist work by its detractors.

Despite what are undoubtedly conscious references to the issues of abstract painting in his Shadow paintings Warhol's chief preoccupation in the creation of these works has been with the creation of an enigma. In striving to create a work that straddles the borderline between the real and the unreal, between the material and the immaterial Warhol's use of the shadow emulates similar experiments by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp in the early 1920s. In particular, Warhol's use of a shadow as the sole image in his work is a painterly development on Man Ray's Rayographs where photographic images were created without the use of a camera by transforming the shadows cast by objects into rough silhouettes onto photographic paper. In deliberately flaunting their own enigmas the Shadow paintings are also a Warholian continuation of Duchamp's deliberately cryptic painting Tu m' in which numerous painterly trompe l'oeil, including the use of painted shadows, combine in an extraordinary catalogu of painterly illusion.

Predominantly dark, seemingly abstract and intriguingly enigmatic, Warhol's Shadows not only form one of the most significant bodies of work, but also lie at the heart of his oeuvre. Openly declaring their own insubstantiality the Shadow paintings, draw the viewer in and then ultimately refuse all perceptual analysis revealing that, in reality, they are nothing but a painted surface. Like so much of Warhol's work they perform the remarkable alchemy of conjuring a deeply striking image out of pure surface, announcing like their creator that, "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".

Text Source: Christie's London Property from an Important Private Collection, Thursday 27 June 2002

Further Reading: The Andy Warhol Diaries

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