Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Stellan Holm Gallery, New York
    Private Collection
    Phillips, London, 29 June 2015, lot 33
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘... as I was putting the phone down, I heard a loud exploding noise and whirled around: I saw Valerie pointing a gun at me and I realized she'd just fired it. I said "No! No, Valerie! Don't do it!" and she shot at me again. I dropped down to the floor as if I'd been hit I didn't know if I actually was or not. I tried to crawl under the desk. She moved in closer, fired again, and then I felt horrible, horrible pain, like a cherry bomb exploding inside me’ (Andy Warhol, quoted in Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, Orlando, 1980, p. 343)

    In 1968 an attempt was made on Andy Warhol’s life by Factory outlier, Valerie Solanas who shot and severely wounded him. A turning point in his artistic sensibility, the present work, painted 13 years after the shooting, not only offers a deeply personal exploration into Warhol’s encroaching sense of mortality, but also exhibits his all-consuming obsession with the events that both psychologically and physically scarred him. In Gun (Cowboy six shooter), the artist presents the viewer with a silkscreened silhouette of the same model of pistol that so nearly claimed his life.

    Starkly brandished against a cool, monochromatic background, the slick outline of a pistol dominates the expanse of canvas. Rather than saturating his object with the bold, tonal colours typical of some of his other works such as the Marilyn Monroe portraits, the harsh, cold edges of the gun are revealed, glinting sinisterly at the viewer. Seemingly devoid of emotion, the inherent phallocratic nature of the gun is suggestive of an overt declaration of power, ownership and authority – a visual symbol that naturally begets violence and machoism.

    There is a paradoxical air to the work; the seemingly shiny glint of the gun could almost be suggestive of a desirable commodity – a status symbol in a glossy advertisement. Yet Warhol’s unremitting preoccupation with the loaded reputation of the gun reveals something of the artist’s own anxiety and fear in facing death. Refusing to let go of the image of the weapon, Warhol became consumed by its violent and macabre underside. This obsession continued to dominate his artistic output, as seen in his Death and Disaster series and Knives paintings. Within these paintings the dread appears to mount in the spectacular images of American violence and death that Warhol continued to produce in his iconic silkscreens.

    Desperate to capture the essence of violence, various models of firearms were used in Warhol’s Guns paintings. ‘In order to choose which guns he would use, we made calls to friends who might know someone with a gun. A few scary people, with first names only, came by and let Andy take Polaroid’s of their weapons. I remember him photographing a sawn-off shotgun.’ (Vincent Fremont, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, New York, 2006, p. 157). However, the present work showcases the very model of gun used by Solanas, a .22 snub-nosed pistol. Here, unusually for Warhol, the image becomes immensely personal. In place of the infamous motifs which dominate his earlier works, the appearance of the very gun used in the attempt on his life reveals Warhol’s own heightened vulnerability. In fact, the accessibility of such a gun comments on the shooting itself and the ease with which imagery is shared in contemporary culture. A feminist writer, as well as an aspiring celebrity, Solanas hovered on the fringes of Warhol's Factory crowd, even appearing in one of his films. Her lasting effect on the artist’s psyche and her role in his preoccupation with violence and American gun crime, invites deep introspection, whereby the viewer might contemplate the threat to their own finite existence.

    An iconic image in its own right, Warhol’s Gun (Cowboy six shooter) is poignant as it is contemplative, retaining the unthinkable gravitas of the traumatic event of 1968. Simultaneously a status symbol and a warning, Warhol’s gun painting is depicted with such clarity that it pushes past realism into a territory of anxiety and fear which is inextricably intermingled with Warhol’s unadulterated fascination with his own near death experience.

  • 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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Gun (Cowboy six shooter)

stamped twice by The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation on the overlap
silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer on canvas
40.6 x 50.8 cm (15 7/8 x 20 in.)
Executed in 1981.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £273,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017