Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol Camouflage, November 7, 1998 – January 9, 1999

  • Literature

    B. Colacello and B. Richardson, Andy Warhol Camouflage, New York, 1999, plate no. 41, p. 89 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The camouflage paintings began as an experiment in Warhol’s studio in the early 1980s. His assistant at the time, Jay Shriver, began to sample ways of pushing paint through camouflage-printed mesh. Ultimately Warhol caught on to his idea and used this basic method as the format for the paintings making up his famous Camouflage series.

    As with the Hammer and Sickle motif in 1977, Warhol once again took a symbol of State and institutional power (the 1977 version being the seal of Communist rule) and reinvented in within the context of Pop Art’s high-tech colors and mass-appeal. Without removing the original syntax of the camouflage, as the motif still maintains its original identity, Warhol transforms the design with new style and interpretation.

    “Camouflage is freightened with nationalistic messages. There are more than 350 camouflage patterns in the world. Each new nation looks upon the creation of a camouflage suit as a step towards independence as important as creating its own flag. Camouflage today is not only about environmental disguise, it is also a statement of national identity… The range in camouflage pattern and color is astonishing and, given the hundreds of inventive and appealing abstract designs, it is not surprising to learn that artists played a defining role in the development of military camouflage.” (B. Richardson, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Warhol’s Camouflage”, Andy Warhol Camouflage, New York, 1998, pp. 12-13).

    The artist was surely aware of camouflage’s historical impact and evolution when he selected the pattern. What is more, there is the connotation that an artist created the original design in its first place, thereby linking Warhol’s reuse of an established motif within the larger scope of his Pop Art methodology. Just as with the Campbell’s Soup label, Warhol reinvents an widely recognized emblem and through his colored manipulation strengthens its ties to contemporary art.

    The camouflage pattern was first recognized by naturalist and painter Abbott Handerson Thayer, who in 1909 published his studies linking animal patterns to the act of disguise. British and American governments adapted Thayer’s findings in World War I military clothing, and in World War II the employment of camouflage evolved to become much more widespread, landing itself on ships and planes to deceive the enemy. Warhol, whose visual vocabulary on the art historical canons and precedents was on a level of near photographic memory, undoubtedly recalled in his mind that artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Arshille Gorky and Clyfford Sill designed patterns for the American military during World War II.

    The genius is his manipulation is that one almost overlooks the original intent of the camouflage and the long history it has had in securing political advantage through military advances. One is dazzled by the bold, day-glo tones and vastness of scale that Warhol employs with these canvases. It is important not to forget the original context of the motif, but Warhol flexes his muscles in reinforcing it with a new ‘Pop Art’ vigor.

    In the present lot, shades of orange and yellow are combined in an almost psychedelic fashion, the allure of the canvas lies not only in Warhol’s reinvestigation of the camouflage motif, but in his adaptation of bold, fresh colors. The artist recategorizes the classic theme within the contemporary art scene, placing it amongst the vein of painting occurring in the second half of the 1980s. Other artists at the time such as Peter Halley and Philip Taffe were simultaneously altering motifs and shapes from nature with artificial colors and stirring up ‘new’ meaning through their artwork.

    It is well documented that Andy Warhol’s personality was more or less enigmatic in its possessed duality; on the one hand, the public side of Warhol illustrates a highly-celebrated fixture on the celebrity social circuit, an acquaintance to political dignitaries and friend to Hollywood personalities, who at the same time passed through life with the utmost silence on his personal life, maintaining secrecy over his homosexual life and partners, and choosing to act tight-lipped over things happening behind closed doors. Warhol also suffered from skin disorders and premature balding, so from the very beginning of his international fame in the 1960s the way in which the public came to recognize him was masked with superficiality as he dawned a wig and makeup every day to cover up the blemishes he found too embarrassing to reveal.

    Henri Matisse’s influence on Warhol is also evident amongst the context of these paintings. The bright colors and pastiche-effect created through the canvas evokes the look of Matisse’s later paper collage cut-outs. What is more, both artists created these series as the final product of their careers. Warhol admitted to having a personal penchant for Matisse’s work, before moving to New York in the 1950’s the artist traveled on pilgrimage to view the major Matisse retrospectives which had a huge impact on the artist.

    The decorative nature of the Camouflage series alludes to Warhol’s lifelong passion for collecting and studying the history of antiques and textiles. As with his transformation of the Cows as a wallpaper installation over the walls at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, Warhol especially with the larger, mural-sized Camouflage works, creates another form of wallpaper to add to his repertoire devoted to a lifetime addiction to the decorative arts. Were it not for his untimely death the following year, there is no doubt that Warhol’s enthusiasm would have led to a full-scale installation on par with the 1966 Cow theme.

    Ultimately, Warhol’s Camouflage paintings serve as a transcendental endpoint to his artistic career. In the early 1960s he set out to reinvent American art and was instrumental in defining the field of Pop Art, deliberately severing ties with his forebears in Abstract Expressionism, which one decade earlier held the post as America’s pivotal contribution to movements in art.

    But according to Ronnie Cutrone, Warhol’s chief art assistant in the 1970s, Warhol was adamant at becoming an abstractionist himself: “Andy always wanted to be an Abstract Expressionist, because he thought he would be taken more seriously. And he would tell this to Fred (Hughes) and Fred would say, ‘But you’re Andy Warhol. You have to paint things.’ And Andy would sulk. So I told him to paint things and to be abstract.” (B. Colacello, “Andy Warhol, Abstraction, and the Camouflage Paintings”, taken from B. Richardson, ed., Andy Warhol Camouflage, New York, 1998, p. 7).

    In his Camouflage series, Warhol was finally able to approach the level of abstraction that he had ardently strove towards, yet ironically polarized over the course of his career. It may be, that with these paintings created in the last year of his life, that Warhol was finally accomplishing his goal as manifested in a form of an expression combining the legacy of his artistic influences and his own life’s journey in identifying a statement on art.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas.
76 x 76 in. (193 x 193 cm).
Stamped with Estate and Foundation seals and numbered “PA 85.040” on the reverse.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,496,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York