Warhol Self-Portrait as print version (PDF with illus. 4.900 KB)
Andy Warhol: Self-Potrait (1967)
in: Sammlungskatalog Fondation Beyeler. Neuzugänge 1998-2003, Riehen/Basel/Wolfratshausen 2003, p. 32.
Self-portraits have become rare in the art of the past decades. Warhol represents an exception, just as a general trait of his art consists in reviving traditional genres of painting – history painting, portraiture, genre painting, interiors, landscape, still life. Warhol did great numbers of self-portraits in every phase of his career. The painting in the Fondation Beyeler belongs to what is certainly the most significant series, the „Self- Portraits“ of 1967. The gesture seen here conforms to the traditional portrait canon. Chin resting on hand is the classical gesture associated with the melancholic or intellectual. Someone who depicts himself in this way does not intend to show himself as an extoller of the superficiality of consumer society but as a thinker who reflects on the spectacle of the world with detachment and dispassion.
The self-confident pose, however, is counteracted by the printing method used to execute the picture. This lends it an ambivalent character, something typical of all Warhol’s art. What immediately strikes the eye is the shadow that occupies almost half of the picture. Emerging from the left, it spreads to the face, obscuring the left half completely, then creeps farther right, where it gradually fades out around eye, nose and mouth. Figure and shadow are printed with the same screen and in the same color. As a result, the becoming visible of the face and its disappearance coincide: a form consisting of shadow. Moreover, Warhol printed the ink in such a way that it formed bubbles and left spots. This gives the impression that the face disappears not so much in a shadow as in an amorphous, porous mass. If we let our eye jump from Warhol’s right eye to the place where the left should be, we see that this amorphous mass does not obscure Warhol’s gaze but gives it an eerie appearance, the flaws in the ink seeming to look out at us in place of the eye. Light and shadow are common motifs in the self-portrait genre, being used to allude to the sense of sight and visual recognition. Usually artists show themselves stepping out of the shadow into the light of visibility. When the light is shed on them, their eyes take on a gleam and their figure or face is lent contours. In contrast, Warhol’s face, rather than emerging from the shadow, seems to withdraw into it. His self-confident pose of critical observation is only one side of the coin – literally, one half of the picture – whose other half consists of a vacant, extinguished gaze. The essential thing is omission, Warhol once said about his technique. And as far as his own personality was concerned, he stated that he never fell apart because he was never one.
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