Curator's Choice: Alison Morton picks Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait at the Graves Gallery

By Alison Morton | 05 April 2012
A photo of a woman standing next to a pop-art portrait of a man's face in red
© Artwork: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, DACS 2012
Curator's Choice: Alison Morton, Museums Sheffield’s Exhibition Programmer, on Andy Warhol’s Self-Portrait (1986)...

“Andy Warhol remains a hugely significant modern artist. A household name, the pictures he created are among the most iconic images ever made.

This painting, Self-Portrait, is one of the ‘Fright Wig’ series commissioned by Anthony d’Offay in 1986.

One of the last Warhol created before his death in February 1987, it’s a powerful, paired back image that seems a million miles away from his ‘Pop Art’ paintings of the 1960s and 1970s.

The painting is just one of a number of works which come to the Graves Gallery this spring for the exhibition Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits.

Part of the ARTIST ROOMS programme, the exhibition has been co-curated by Anthony d’Offay and brings together a range of Warhol’s self portraits from the late 1970s and 1980s.

Warhol spent his entire career making portraits: of himself, of friends of celebrities’ and of contemporary culture.

This image, like many of Warhol’s paintings, was constructed using photographic silk screen printing, a technique that became Warhol’s stylistic trademark.

Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory, was a gathering place for the local artistic community and it was the relationships that developed there, and the celebrity culture that revolved around them, that frequently provided the inspiration for his work.

But it was also there where three gun related incidents occurred; the last of these, in 1968, left Warhol fighting for his life and saw him undergo a long and serious operation from which he never fully recovered.

Warhol continued to work in the years after this operation, but he didn’t make any more self-portraits until 1978.

When he did eventually return to the self-portrait, the images were full of references to death. The colours were uncharacteristically sombre.

Paintings such as Strangulation, from 1978, which is also showing at the Graves Gallery, is made up of ten repeated images which show Warhol’s eyes and mouth wide open looking terrified whilst a pair of hands grips his neck.

He produced numerous self-portraits in the decade preceding his death, many of which contain violent overtones and symbols of death such as skulls.

Warhol never proclaimed his work to be anything other than images on a canvas, and certainly never suggested his late self-portraits were any kind of meditation on his own mortality.

He said: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings, and film and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”

He also denied these self-portraits were about death, saying, “I don’t believe in it because you are not around to know that’s it’s happened. I can’t say anything about it because I’m not prepared for it.”

The painting was first shown at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1986 as part of the first ever exhibition of Warhol’s self-portraits.

Eerie and intense, the image gives an impression of a disembodied head, which is both macabre and uncanny.

I love this picture because of this power – it’s a dark painting and, despite what Warhol says, it feels incredibly honest."

  • Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits runs at Museums Sheffield: Graves Gallery from April 11 – December 1 2012.
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