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  • Provenance

    The Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings remain some of the most iconic images of the twentieth century, simultaneously celebrating and exposing consumer culture. Arguably one of the most influential artists to emerge from post-war America, Warhol was a master at carefully curating his public persona, he infamously quipped that ‘everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ Although hungry for fame and public approval, the artist remained intensely private, masterfully evading exposure of his innermost private life. His signature silkscreen technique, coupled with his ‘Factory’ model of production, effectively eliminated any trace of the artist’s hand—echoing the dichotomy of both the artist and his work. Although Warhol’s paintings are immediately relatable, the imagery was often deeply personal.

    Throughout his life Warhol was known to be a consummate hypochondriac, obsessed with mortality. The artist’s earlier Disaster series from the 1960s, in which he reproduced images of riots, car crashes and suicides, often juxtaposing them with bright colours, embodied this morbid fascination with death. This series depicts the grisly aftermath of human tragedy through the unsentimental lens of the news camera, translating it to canvas through the Factory silkscreen. The Disaster works also included celebrity paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, illustrating the paradox between public and private loss. The resulting images simulate the loss of self at the hands of constant public scrutiny and celebrity obsession. Each woman, each race riot, each disaster—all are treated as commonplace commodities, like the Campbell’s soup can or the Coca-Cola bottle.

    Although the turbulent nature of the Sixties was the genesis for Warhol’s Disaster series, the present lot is part of a later series born from true personal trauma. During the 1960s, Warhol was a relative outsider to the violence he painted so often in the Disaster series. According to Ondine, a frequent Factory actor, ‘every time I saw him witness real violence he was completely surprised. He didn't expect violence on other people’s parts and violence shocked him. He wasn't aware of it. He didn't have street smarts.’ (Ondine, quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London, 1989, p. 201). If witnessing violence through the protected window of the television screen was shocking for Warhol, facing violence first hand was a different thing entirely.

    Guns, part of the artist’s later Guns and Knives series, is an intimate glimpse into the mind of the artist after a near-death encounter almost ten years prior (1968), in which marginal Factory figure Valerie Solanas attempted an assassination on the artist’s life. Solanas was an occasional actress in Factory films and authored the radical feminist S.C.U.M. (The Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, which urged women to ‘overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex’ (Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto, 1967, p. 1). Like Marilyn and Jackie, Warhol had achieved celebrity status, making him a target for radicals like Solanas. The resulting gunshot left the artist permanently disfigured—the bullet from the gun had entered the left side of his torso and ricocheted through his abdomen, creating a grotesque patchwork of scarring across the artist’s chest.

    Although Warhol would never have publicly revealed the truly intimate nature of the work—when asked what he thought about guns, he answered: ‘Yes, I think they’re really kind of nice’ (Andy Warhol in Andy Warhol Giant Size, London 2006, p. 548)—this work acted as a cathartic exercise for the artist. Physically and psychologically wounded, Warhol bravely followed in the art-historical tradition of memento mori, which reflects on the fleetingness of human existence. In Guns, there is an added tinge of irony: the work is Warhol’s personal confrontation with the darker side of fame.

    Both the Disaster and Guns and Knives series came at times when a culture of violence was rapidly pervading the American psyche through mainstream channels like Hollywood and television. Although for the American public the image of the Wild West has always been tempered with certain nostalgia, the 1950s and 60s were heydays for the glamorisation of that characteristically American icon: the revolver-toting cowboy. Similarly, gangster films and film noir from Hollywood’s Golden Age glamorised and branded the gun as a symbol of masculine virility. Warhol explained that ‘It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.’ With its monochromatic palette, Guns boldly embraces the form of the gun in the cinematic tradition, condensing its design into high contrast fields of black. The two silhouettes interact, their triggers overlapping, losing themselves in their companion.

    However, unlike Warhol’s Disaster series, in which all we see is the result of violence—Guns is the inert object, rendered useless without a trigger finger. Unlike Lichtenstein’s work Trigger Finger, where the fetishised object is engaged at the exact moment of release, Warhol’s painting anthropomorphises the two guns. In fact, Warhol painted Guns in the same manner as his celebrity portraits, bringing various guns into the Factory and taking Polaroids of them as he would a sitter. In this way, we can think of Guns as a portrait of America, illustrating the artist’s own encounter with a growing culture of violence, desensitised and commoditised. It is significant, then, that the gun used here was one of the most widely manufactured handgun models produced at the time, the Colt Detective Special, a .38 snub-nosed revolver issued to plain-clothes police officers. Guns depicts an American commodity that is in many ways similar to the iconic Campbell’s soup, although its symbolism runs much deeper.

    When placed in the context of Warhol’s larger oeuvre, this lot acts as a metaphor for the growing ubiquity of violence in America and a clairvoyant look into its future. The Wall Street boom of the 1980s provided an interesting foil to the rampant crime of New York City, where the homicide rate was at an all-time high. Warhol even played off this contrast, intending to display works from his Guns and Knives series alongside his Dollar Signs at Leo Castelli in 1982, suggesting that violence was as integral to American society as money.

  • 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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10

Guns

1981
synthetic polymer, silkscreen ink on canvas
40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in.)
Stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. on the reverse and numbered 'PA15.036' on the overlap.

Estimate
£500,000 - 700,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm