Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 16, 2009 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Fred Hughes, New York; Heiner BAstian Fine Art, Berlin; Stellan Holm, New York; Private Collection, New York

  • Literature

    Exhibition Catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, New York, 2006, p.85 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment’.’ (Andy Warhol as cited in Andy Warhol: Giant Size, London, 2006, p.524)
    Arguably the most well known and pertinent artist of the 20th century, Andy Warhol the man, the art and the legacy requires no introduction. The single greatest artistic innovator of the Post War era, his lasting influence on our contemporary culture is evident for all to see. Nearly three decades of work came to a premature end in 1987 when he died from post operation complications, robbing the artistic world of its talisman, of its undisputed figure head. Having meticulously planned his own funeral long before his passing, the fragility of life and the impendence and omnipotence of death, most particularly his own death, had always been at the forefront of his mind. Artistically, with the posthumous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, the representations of Jackie Kennedy the widow, and his Death and Disaster series, it can be said that death was Andy Warhol’s single most important theme throughout his artistic canon. The present lot, a small but tightly composed, vivid, thickly painted canvas from his acclaimed Skull series, poignantly captures the essence of a troubled soul attempting to come to terms with his inner demons. Executed in 1976, over a decade before his death, Skull presents the viewer with a middle aged Andy Warhol contemplating the transience of life.
    In the present lot and the series as a whole Warhol tackles head on the motif of the skull within the long, meaningful Vanitas tradition in Western art. The first known representation of the skull is thought to have come from the Dutch painter Jacques de Gheyn the Elder with his 1603 work Vanitas Still Life, a painting which has been retained in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum since 1974, just two years prior to Warhol’s execution of the present lot. For more than 4 centuries, nearly every master has weighed in on the issue from Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran, to the founder of modern art, Paul Cezanne, and finally to Warhol’s closest rival as the most significant and influential artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. However, unlike the somber, contemplative representations of his esteemed predecessors, Warhol’s contribution, in typical, distinctive Warholian fashion, is executed in bright, day-glo colours. His memento mori is depicted close up in three quarter pose, isolated against a two tier background and casting a shadow, the shadow of death. The vivacious hues of acrylic paint, navy blue and hot pink in the present lot, satirically counterbalance the morbid subject matter. The dichotomy between the subject and the execution, the image of a skull and glamorous colours in which it is painted, is representative of Warhol’s schizophrenic personality, of his well documented desire for fame and celebrity, glitzy life in contrast to, as quoted above, his wish for a blank tombstone.
    In 1975 Andy Warhol said about death, ‘I don’t believe in it, because you’re not around to know that it’s happened. I can’t say anything about it because I’m not prepared for it.’ (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), Orlando 1975, p. 123) Famously cryptic, Warhol may not have known how to use words to describe death but a year later he certainly knew how to poignantly and forcefully depict it. His Skull series, a definitive portrait of death, immortalizes mortality. As one of his most autobiographical bodies of work, it also immortalized Andy Warhol into the art historical canon. Possessing a sixth sense, Warhol was yet again apocalyptic when he said ‘death can really make you like a star’ (the artistic as cited exhibition catalogue, Bilbao, Guggenheim, Andy Warhol: A Factory, 2000, n.p.) 

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States 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 like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like 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 a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas.
38.1 x 48.3 cm. (15 x 19 in).
Signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 1976' on the overlap.

£450,000 - 650,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

17 Oct 2009