Andy Warhol - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 17, 2024 | Phillips

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  • On the 3rd of June 1968, Andy Warhol was shot and critically injured by Valerie Solanas, the author of multiple separatist feminist manifestos and a marginal figure in the factory scene. Following this, Warhol became consumed by death, veering away from his preoccupation with soup cans and Coke bottles. Throughout the 1970s – an era of growing anxiety regarding AIDS, escalating threats of nuclear war, and ecological disasters – death became the central motif in Warhol’s work, as is epitomised in Skulls. A memento mori for the Pop art era, Warhol’s Skulls create an ominous and foreboding presence, reminding the observer of the transience of life and the certainty of death. Just as Warhol was confronted with own existence as he stared into the face of his assailant, here the viewer is also forced to enter a period of self-reflection, as we contemplate our inevitable fate.


    Andy Warhol, 1975. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Death is an enduring motif that permeates through the history of art. While many artworks exult in envisioning realms of the afterlife, both paradisiacal and infernal, others refer to death in sombre memento mori still-lifes – poignantly acknowledging life's fleeting nature and serving as a potent impetus to embrace life wholeheartedly. Building on this art historical legacy, Warhol first tackled the theme of death in his screenprint reproduction of the front-page of the June 4th 1962 edition of the New York Mirror. Emblazoned with the headline "129 Die in Jet!", Warhol’s artwork nods to the media’s excitement surrounding tragic events. Warhol soon embarked on his Death and Disaster series, in which he focused on challenging subjects such as car crashes, suicides, atomic bombs and, most iconically, the electric chair. Warhol found ample source material in the police and press photographs printed in newspapers, images whose inherent reproducibility was extended in his mechanical silkscreen process. By intertwining moments of violence, death, and tragedy with the mechanics of spectacle and mass-reproduction, Warhol explored a darker side of American life hidden behind the façade of post-war affluence and optimism.


    Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533, The National Gallery, London. Image: IanDagnall Computing / Alamy Stock Photo

    The genesis of the Skulls series can be traced back to Ronnie Cutrone, then one of Warhol's assistants, who arranged the still-life. Placing the skull on a trestle table, he poised it upon a piece of plywood covered with white paper, strategically positioning it against a blank studio wall. On Warhol's instructions, Cutrone meticulously photographed the scene, orchestrating an interplay of shadows by manipulating the light source's placement. The resulting images, bathed in dramatic chiaroscuro, showcased a play of light—where the forehead and cheekbone gleamed brightly, while the eye sockets and other crevices are cast in shadow—a composition that delighted Warhol.

    “I’m not afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
    —Andy Warhol
    At odds with the macabre subject of Skulls, Warhol opted for his characteristic vivid colour scheme, using bold poster-like fields to create a Pop art interpretation of traditional chiaroscuro. In its seriality, the set of four screenprints echoes Warhol’s earlier bodies of work that repeated motifs connected to consumer culture, such as soup cans, dollar signs, and Brillo boxes. Repeated four times in vibrant colours, Warhol’s use of the skull motif pushed the limits of Pop to investigate the invasive nature of consumer culture and mass media, poignantly coupling it with the constant presence of death’s inevitability.

    • Literature

      Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann 157-160

    • 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.


      View More Works


Skulls (F. & S. 157-160)

The complete set of four screenprints in colours, on Strathmore Bristol paper, the full sheets.
all S. 76.8 x 101.8 cm (30 1/4 x 40 1/8 in.)
All signed and numbered 47/50 in pencil (there were also 10 artist's proofs), published by Andy Warhol Enterprises, Inc., New York, all framed.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £95,250

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Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 17 - 18 January 2024