Hey guys! I thought I would share with you a paper I wrote a while back on Andy Warhol after I went to see his Shadow Series displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was an amazing experience! I had never seen such a large quantity of work by one person even though he had a lot of help, which I will talk about in my paper.
Andy Warhol: Quantity vs. Quality
Many people believe that to be a great artist, you must be unique, irreplaceable, and bring a new special touch to everything you create. Andy Warhol not only disagreed with this idea but he went one step further, to prove this theory wrong by demonstrating that the individuality aspect of art is insignificant and thus irrelevant. We can see that Andy Warhol rebelled against academic artwork by showing that he could contradict everything he has been taught by throwing away the idea of being unique and embracing the concept of working as a machine. He is often referred to as the father of pop art because was not afraid to step out of the box. He used techniques such as screen-printing to create exact replicas of his artwork and he hired workers to help him paint his pieces, such as the Shadow Series. In his interview with Gene Swenson Warhol says that, “The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do” (Swenson). He gravitated towards unity and sameness in his artwork and felt like the quality of the piece was irrelevant in comparison to its quantity. This brings up a new style of artwork that Andy holds near and dear, a technique of art that can be easily replicated to the point where the artist almost becomes insignificant. This is shown in Andy Warhol’s Shadow Series where he and his workers worked as a machine to create one hundred and two of the same paintings with slightly different colors, textures, and composition. It is clear in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Andy Warhol exhibition that his underlying objective was to become a machine, this was encompassed by his works. The beauty of this exhibit is that it illuminates the feeling of grandeur and darkness.
The Shadow Series depicts a triangle figure to the left of the composition with its size varying depending on the canvas. Each canvas is six feet tall and four feet wide, and he chose to create each painting big enough to make a statement. He believed in the power of numbers, he even admitted that, “The show only looks good because it’s so big”(Knight). Next to the triangular figure is what appears to be a shadow that moves away and out of the composition to the right. This fluid movement helps the eye travel in and out of the piece. The bottom corner of the piece is a large “L” shape that sits near the triangle and then moves down and to the right of the edge following the right angle of the canvas. The entire series has a fluid movement throughout it and it moves the viewers from one painting to the next. The beauty of each of these pieces is that no two are exactly the same and in some, they vary between positive and negative imprints. It creates a radical dream-like feeling, leaving viewers unsettled and also intrigued. The unity of each painting relates to what Andy Warhol said in his interview that, “It doesn’t matter what you do. Everybody just goes on thinking the same thing, and every year it gets more and more alike” (Swenson). This is reflected into his exhibition of the Shadow Series because most viewers initially believe that all 102 paintings are identical, simply varying in color; however, he challenges viewers to not only see the similarities of each piece but to also differentiate the details of how they are unalike.
Andy’s career took a sudden change when he discovered the process of silk-screening. Silk screen printing is the process of making exact replicas of images by forcing paint through an article of silk cloth. The design occurs because certain pores of the cloth are blocked, therefore the paint cannot pass through. The squeegee pushes the paint perfectly through the other side of the stretched silk. This creates an almost pixilated or grainy effect in his paintings. The paintings trick the eye, because there are copious amounts of pain marks on each canvas but the printed image contrasts heavily. In the article Andy Warhol and His Process, Roger Kamholz said that, “Once he (Andy Warhol) discovered the process and implications of working with silk screens, the content of Warhol’s output as a painter became inextricably linked to the process by which he created his art” (Kamholz). Andy began experimenting with screen-printing in the year of 1962 but he did not paint the Shadow Series until 1978.
Andy Warhol went to great extremes to turn his artistic life into that of a working machine; he even named his studio “The Factory”. He was not alone when working in his studio, he and his workers served as the gears of the metaphorical machine in the factory to help this project run smoothly. He had an attraction to repetition, and that is one of the key elements that made the Shadow paintings such a big success. His eccentricity steered him to create the artwork we are still familiar with to this day. It is ironic that he believed the way to be a distinctive artist was to create artwork that was the same, and easily replicated. What I mean by this is that, Andy wanted his artwork to be something that could be replicated and that was not incredibly unique. His Shadow paintings were only unique, because of the way he executed his idea not because of their intricacy. He took an abstract image, silk printed it, and mass produced the image in varying colors. His idea became beautiful not in the conception of the Shadow paintings but in their entirety when they were hung next to each other repeating one hundred and two times. It shows the importance of a collection opposed to a single art piece, just like when he stressed in his interview the importance of unity and oneness among people and artwork. His exhibition also displayed the power associated with size.
The beauty of the Shadow Series is through the collections abstraction people are attracted to the show. Every person sees something different, but the people who are exposed to it are drawn to the artwork. When I saw this exhibition I was intrigued by the artwork, and it was fascinating to hear my classmates’ responses to the collection, some of us felt that it was dark and mysterious, while others felt like it was comparable to a reel of film or the repeating of the chorus of a song. In the article published by the MOCA museum they state that, “The Shadows are one of Warhol’s most mysterious and beautiful works, full of mood and feeling, repeated over and over, not unlike a song” (MOCA). The images found in this series of paintings were of photographs that Andy took in a dark factory. This is what made Andy Warhol so great; he gave his viewers the freedom to see whatever they wanted to see in his artwork. Andy Warhol shared his fascination with repetition through his artwork to touch people’s lives.
The Shadow paintings correlate strongly to Andy Warhol’s interview with Gene Swenson. By analyzing his artwork and his interview I have come to the conclusion that Andy Warhol had a fascination with reality and how he could evoke feelings. His Shadow paintings put his desire to become a mechanism to the test. He relied on his employees to help him to carry out his artistic process. Without the workers at “The Factory” the Shadow paintings may never have come into existence. His choices to unify each painting were beautifully executed, from how they were displayed to how they were similarly painted and printed. He went to great lengths to reject academic art and he did this through his creative actions. The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Andy Warhol exhibit displays the Shadow Series and highlights their pure beauty and mystery. He challenges us all, even non-artists, to never accept styles or the norms of life at the first glance. Through uniqueness beauty can be found, but Andy wanted to show that through the repetition of his art, he could create something that was completely unified and replicable and simultaneously distinct in its quantity, not its quality.