Andy Warhol, Skeletons, 1987, Four gelatin silver prints and thread, from an edition of 120

Andy Warhol, Skeletons, 1987, Four gelatin silver prints and thread, from an edition of 120

Perhaps it is because of his early and most famous successes with hand-executed and appropriated works that Warhol is generally accepted as a painter and a colorist. The wide appeal of his soup cans and silkscreened portraits tended to distract the art world from Warhol’s artistic process, which was a cross-fertilization of painting and photography. Acclaimed art critic and historian David Bourdon comments, “Warhol’s photography, despite its fecundity, depth of subject treatment, and formal accomplishment, has achieved little critical or public recognition compared with the overwhelming international fascination with his painting, printmaking, and cinema.”

Throughout his fine arts career, Warhol employed diverse types of photographic media and imagery. In the early 1960s he appropriated printed materials directly from magazines, publicity shots, and newspapers for works such as Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), Lavender Disaster (1963), and Four Jackies (1964). In 1962 Warhol shot still lifes of varied subjects such as Campbell’s Soup cans and Coca Cola bottles for his early paintings. By the late 60s he began experimenting with color photographs. However, Warhol’s silkscreens were still not perceived as photographic works, despite their process that involved emulsions, acetates, gelatins, negatives and photographic originals. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the distinction between art and photography remained strong; the art world remained fixed in the traditional notion of painting’s superiority. Notably, one of Warhol’s groundbreaking achievements in the 1970’s was the elevation of photography to the age-old tradition of painting. Based on their tremendous success, his 1960s silkscreens single handedly ushered photography into the fine art arena due to Warhol’s decision to paint using photographic stencils.

After he stopped painting in 1966, Warhol continued his photographic pursuits, which involved film and commissioned portraiture. In his late work—from 1982 to 1987—Warhol made hundreds of black and white photographs that were stitched together with thread. These works were derivative of his earlier repetitive silkscreen paintings as well as his lifelong immersion with filmmaking. Like so many other of his collaborations, Warhol appropriated the stitched idea from his studio assistant Christopher Makos. Warhol completed over 500 stitched photograph objects in a five-year span. With each object, the prints overlapped each other by approximately one half inch, and the stitching occurred one eighth of an inch away from each superimposed print’s edge. This way, only one print was seen in its entirety, whereas the others had overlapping edges. A majority of the threaded photograph groupings were made from uniform prints, all formally oriented in the same direction and systematically arranged in the grid. “In the simplicity of exactly duplicated prints, Warhol achieves the visual impact of patterning and abstraction through the invocation of his own mantra: ‘make it less arty.’” (William Ganis, Andy Warhol’s Serial Photography, 2004). Warhol did not give any titles to these works, and as a result the renaming of stitched photographs has been a topic of debate. Publications before 1997 generally list the stitched objects as Untitled; proceeding that time the works featured in books or exhibitions have been given titles by curators. One sewn photograph edition, Skeletons (1986-87) is particularly haunting given that they were sent from Warhol to a Swiss art journal to be published, and they arrived the day after Warhol died in 1987. It was as if Warhol had anticipated his death, and sent a memento mori as his acceptance that even he, Andy Warhol, was mortal.

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