Screenprints of Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol No. 4 from Muhammad Ali 1978 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
At this time, Warhol was a proponent for using screenprinting in a non-commercial context. In an unfortunate echo of the Lichtenstein cartoon experience, after Warhol agreed to advise Rauschenberg on screenprinting, it was assumed in the art world that Warhol was the follower, not the precursor in adoption of this technique. In fact, the reverse was the case. Contributing to his constant sense of rejection as a legitimate artist, Warhol developed an ironic public persona of indifference and superficiality, claiming one needed to only look at the surface of his work: ‘If you want to know all about Andy Warhol … Just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There is nothing behind it.’ 6 Warhol also revelled in his apparent machine aesthetic, noting, ‘The things I want to show are mechanical. Machines have less problems. I’d like to be a machine wouldn’t you?’ 7 Yet on some occasions the human element would ‘creep’ in, according to an assistant at the Factory, with ‘a smudge here, a bad silk screening there, an unintentional cropping’.8 Later Warhol was to deliberately contradict his own pronouncements and introduce a painterly quality to his work, or purposely utilise off-register colours in the screenprinting process.
Warhol used the same images for his screenprint series of ten works, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) published in 1967 by Factory Additions, a publishing arm Warhol established with art gallery dealer David Whitney. The series was produced in an edition of 250; the fabulous colours said to have been selected by Whitney. However, there were various other unauthorised editions made subsequently using the original matrix for the Marilyn screenprint series. For many of the later proofs (still not completely documented) each sheet on the verso bears the black stamp ‘Published by Sunday B Morning’ and ‘Fill in your signature’ denoting that others were pulling and printing the series at idle times. To complicate matters further, some proofs were also signed in hand by Warhol ‘This is not by me. Andy Warhol.’ In addition further proofs were run off without the artist’s knowledge and considered ‘fakes’ by the artist.9
At the suggestion of Geldzahler, who thought the artist should address tougher subjects, Warhol went on to pursue themes of death and disaster, frequently sourcing images from sensational tabloids or pulp magazines. He was attracted to the themes of car crashes, race riots and executions which, as images, appear in often macabre, trashy or banal formulations. These images of death and disaster retain an enigmatic lingering power. The Electric chair series of prints from 1971, for example, are derived from a photograph of the electric chair in Sing Sing Penitentiary in Ossining, New York, where the convicted Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been executed on 13 January 1953 at the height of the Cold War. This was released by the press service Wide World Photo on the day of the execution. Warhol had first used this image in the painting Lavender disaster in 1963 – the year two other convicts were executed at the same prison. As with many of his subjects, Warhol later recycled his imagery. For the Electric chair print series of 1971, the artist cropped the photograph, honing in on the empty chair. Often using pastel decorator colours, applied in a painterly manner, the contrast between the deathly subject and the softened, almost delicate, technique underscores the horror of the execution chamber.
From 1963 Warhol pursued a career in 16mm filmmaking. He was almost a passive voyeur. Using a fixed camera and no editing, films such as Sleep, Blow Job, Eat, Haircut and Kiss were unconventional, often erotic, frequently chaotic, sometimes mesmerising and mind-numbing. While pursuing his filmmaking career in the late 1960s, Warhol spent some time filming in Los Angeles. It was during this time that he began working with John Coplans, Director of the Pasenda Art Museum, on exhibitions. Coplans was keen to develop a fundraising publication for the museum. To this end the director approached master printer Ken Tyler. The latter was keen to invite the best young artists around to make prints at his Gemini GEL workshop in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One such artist was Andy Warhol. According to the printer: 'Andy made some wonderful AB Dick Mimeograph hand cut stencils in the early 60s for this project that never materialized. John Coplans thought I could transfer the stencils into lithography and print editions from them. I experimented with them and decided I would lose the stencils during the process and I wasn’t sure I could get great results. I had done some similar trials in 1968 for Oldenburg’s portfolio of Notes using mimeograph stencils. About the same time (1970) Andy had asked me to design a "floating card machine" to show his portrait images in'.
Sadly the Museum publication did not proceed. According to Tyler:
The project never developed into a prototype model and was abandoned. I kept trying to get Andy to print with me, but his deal with David Whitney & Company for publishing large screenprint editions with many undocumented proofs, prohibited me from working with him. There was a lot of art world politics and suspect dealings involved with Warhol and Company which I could never be a part of and I also was not in a position to financially compete.
No long-lasting collaboration with Warhol was possible for the printer. ‘The Warhol story is a brief one for me’, Tyler recently recalled. ‘We met in the late 60s through David Whitney, Irving Blum and Leo Castelli and saw each other at openings, etc. Getting to know Andy who was always surrounded by people who worked for him was difficult. Andy was polite, charming, complicated and very hard to figure out what he was thinking and often what he was saying.’
There was, however, one successful outcome for Tyler: ‘In 1972 the Vote McGovern campaign asked me to do a campaign print with Andy while he was filming in LA, which Andy agreed to, so the 16-color screenprint was made. No more prints after that, even with Andy loving the print job that Jeff Wasserman, my screenprinter did.’10
Andy Warhol Vote McGovern 1972 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The idea for Vote McGovern had its origins in an earlier poster made by Ben Shahn, an artist who Warhol greatly admired. In 1964 Shahn had designed a poster in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon Baines Johnson. For this work, over the caption ‘Vote Johnson’ Shahn had sketched a cartoon-like face of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater with large spectacles and a toothy grin. For his own foray into politics, Warhol took a photographic image of Richard Nixon, which had appeared as the cover for Newsweek on 27 January 1969. For this 16-colour screenprint, Warhol gave his Republican candidate a hideous green face with yellow lips and a blue five-o’clock shadow (something the politician was noted for in comparison with the photogenic John Kennedy). Underneath he placed the caption calling to vote for Democratic candidate McGovern. It was this foray into the political world that Warhol subsequently blamed for the constant scrutiny of his taxes by the Internal Revenue Service.
Always keen for new subject matter, developments in American foreign policy presented Warhol with a new celebrity. In 1972 President Nixon made his first official trip to China – a country that had been unrecognised by many in the West ever since the Communist Revolution of 1949. There Nixon met the Chinese Communist leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, heralding a new era of diplomacy. This event and the figure of Mao provided a new icon for the artist. Warhol took his image of Mao from the cover of the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, produced in millions of copies. He created multiple versions of Mao screenprinted onto canvas of various sizes, which became increasingly painterly. This gestural quality was also evident in the 1972 print version of ten works that feature hand-drawn marks around the head of Mao and unevenly inked colours.
Andy Warhol Henry Gillespie 1985 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
By the 1970s Warhol no longer relied on found imagery and had considerably expanded his range of subjects. He often took his own photographs and the ‘hand-made’ element became increasingly evident by additions of collage elements using torn cheap graphic Color Aid papers, which were produced in a seemingly endless array of colours. The single portrait of Paloma Picasso published as part of the series of homage portfolios to honour her late father and the series of ten screenprints of Mick Jagger were characteristic of this change in style. Warhol had met Jagger in 1963 when the band the Rolling Stones were not well known in the United States. Warhol had designed the band’s provocative album cover for Sticky fingers with its focus on a man’s crotch and a zipper that opened. The album and the design proved to be a huge success and Warhol, ever keen to make money, lamented that he had not been paid enough given the millions of copies that sold. No doubt with an eye for financial success, Warhol turned to the subject of Mick Jagger for a new print series. Although the rock star disliked Warhol’s voyeurism and in the early days the artist thought Jagger ‘awful looking’, he was now a celebrity friend and part of the New York club scene. Using a selection of ten photographs he had taken of Jagger, Warhol produced a series of ten screenprints, with a pronounced collage look and a suprisingly dark palette highlighted by occasional bright pinks and oranges.
Throughout his career Warhol relied on assistants to help produce his work, beginning with Nathan Gluck in the mid 1950s and continuing with Gerard Malanga and Jay Skinner. It was not until 1977 that he hired a printer for his publications. Rupert Smith continued to work for him until the time of Warhol’s death.11 Greater care was now taken with the printing, and regular proofing of work took place (something Warhol had not done previously) to ensure a high quality. One print series made in this manner was the set of four screenprints of Muhammad Ali. Like Jagger he was a celebrity, but in a totally new field for Warhol – sport. Warhol took four of his own photographs of the handsome boxer. The collage look characteristic of the 70s is less random in this 1978 screenprint series, with colour highlighting certain aspects of his subject, such as his fist or a profile. Despite his protestations to the contrary – ‘I don’t believe in style. I don’t want my art to have style’ – Warhol’s art evolved stylistically over the 1960s and 1970s.
Years later, we see things differently in Warhol’s art – he has a distinct style and choice of subject matter that is unmistakably and singularly his own.
Senior Curator International Prints, Drawings & Illustrated Books
© All Andy Warhol images are reproduced with the permission of ARS, New York and VISCOPY Ltd, Sydney 2003.
1 Hilton Kramer, quoted in a special supplement ‘A symposium
on Pop Art’, Arts Magazine, April 1963, pp 38–9.
The symposium was held at the Museum of Modern Art on 13 December
1962 and was published in the following year, in its entirety, pp 36–45.
2 Dore Ashton, ibid, p 39.
3 Henry Geldzahler, op cit, p 37.
4 Muriel Latow, quoted in Victor Bockris, Warhol, Frederick Muller, London, 1989 p 143.
5 Andy Warhol in Warhol and Pat Hackett (eds), POPism; the Warhol ‘60s, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1980 p 22.
6 Warhol in David Bailey Andy Warhol, Transcript of Bailey’s ATV Documentary, Bailey, Litchfield/Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd, London, 1972, np, quoted in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, Harry N Abrams Inc, 1989, p 10.
7 Warhol quoted in David Bourdon, Warhol, Harry N Abrams Inc, New York, 1989, p 140.
8 Gerard Malanga, ‘A conversation with Andy Warhol’, Print Collector’s Newsletter, vol 1, no ,6 January–February 1971, p 125.
9 For example, see Warhol’s diary entry for 1 December 1976 and the ‘fake’ Electric chairs, in Hackett (ed), The Andy Warhol diaries, Warner Books, New York, 1989, p 4.
10 All quotes by Ken Tyler in correspondence with Jane Kinsman dated 21 May 2003.
11 Marco Livingstone, ‘Do it yourself: notes on Warhol’s techniques’, in Kynaston McShine (ed) Andy Warhol: a retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, pp 63–78; ‘Rupert Jasen Smith on printmaking’ in Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann (eds), Andy Warhol Prints: a catalogue raisonné, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc, New York; Editions Schellmann, Munich/New York; Abbeville Press, New York, 1989 pp 25–7.