Warhol - Why ‘Late Self-Portraits’?

Mar 30 2012

Andy Warhol died in 1987 and his last exhibition in the UK was a show of self-portraits at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery,London. Many of the works shown in that exhibition were amongst the most powerful he ever made and we’re really excited that a selection can be seen at the Graves Gallery from11 April.

These pictures have a special meaning to Anthony d’Offay which is why he is co-curating this exhibition. Anthony is an eminent art collector who recently donated a vast proportion of artworks to the nation, which over the past couple of years have toured the country under the ARTIST ROOMS banner.  He developed the idea for a show of self-portraits from conversations with Andy way back in the 1970’s. Although in many ways an obvious idea it was not something Andy was necessarily comfortable with. Warhol was a private person who expressed an interest in the celebrities he associated with rather than himself.

All self-portraits are in some way contrived to present an image to the world. Warhol was a master image maker so interpreting his self-portraits is particularly challenging. Despite all the publicity surrounding him there is very little known about him. He played with his public persona and the contradictions it presented. He is quoted as having said: “I never like to give my background away. I make it up different every time…..I prefer to remain a mystery”.

Most of Warhol’s work was about portraiture. He made numerous iconic portraits of famous people such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. There was much bravado in these strong, brash images. This drama and role play was carried through into his self-portraits. He would frequently begin work by dressing up and photographing himself.

One of the star works in this exhibition is a ‘fright wig’ portrait, on loan specially from Tate.  Like many of his paintings Warhol’s ‘Fright Wig’ series originated from a photograph. The series was commissioned by Anthony d’Offay in the final months of Warhol’s life. They are amongst the most dramatic and intense works he ever made. They present an uncanny image of his disembodied head. Like much of his painting they were reprinted in many different colours but the red and black painting you will see in this exhibition is certainly one of the most startling versions.

‘Fright Wig’, like the other later self-portraits on show at Graves Gallery were all made after a near fatal shooting incident in 1968 which left Warhol permanently disabled. They appear to reveal a preoccupation with death and a confrontation with his mortality.

Warhol himself would probably have denied any hidden meaning. He once said: “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’s nothing behind it”.

I hope you will find these self-portraits of Warhol fascinating. They document how his work developed from its ‘Pop Art’ roots and suggest an intention towards the end of his life to reveal himself  - and his fragility.

For more details of the forthcoming exhibition click here


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