Sunday 19 December 2010

Andy Warhol self-portraits

We all know that Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a bit, no a lot, of an enigma, even to people close to him and those of us who knew him even a little. I spent some time working with him, and if a man could get through a day without saying much at all, that was Andy. Luckily he had front men - the late and charming Fred Hughes oversaw things at the Factory and made things work. It was a fascinating time in New York looking back - Gerard Malanga was making the silkscreen prints, Paul Morrisey was making  films, featuring people like Joe Delassandro (who would sometimes man the front desk) and the lovely Viva Superstar who on meeting me for the first time said "Well, you never WHO you're going to meet on the third floor". I've still no idea what she meant.

Andy Warhol's self-portraits occupy a central position in the artist's body of work. He’s best known for his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy. In his self-portraits however we see him as he saw himself, or as he wanted to be seen. The works are portraits of the artist's masks and their ambiguity lies in whether they are, in fact, accurate representations of the real Warhol or simply a means of deception - an act in pursuit of privacy.

Every portrait projects both a vacancy and an allure, but essentially a superficiality that appears to betray no clear feeling. The artist's face drifts or stares blankly as if bored by the attention. In averting the gaze of the viewer, Warhol seems to deflect analysis and confrontation, both craving and scared of the attention at the same time. When he cast himself next to Hollywood's most famous, his own worth of celebrity was questioned - he had become well known by association with other famous people and by depending on the kindness of photogenic strangers.

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