Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
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Born Constantinos Coutsoudis, Iolas broke ties with his family in Greece to pursue a career as a ballet dancer. After moving to the United States, Iolas began to fraternise with other dancers and figureheads in the arts, eventually turning his own attention to the art world. Though his name fell into oblivion after his death in 1987, Iolas is now regarded as one of the ”inventors” of the contemporary art world.
Warhol met Iolas back in 1945, when Warhol was beginning work as a commercial illustrator at the young age of 17. From there on, the two enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with one another, leading to fame, success and wealth. In this series, Warhol was commissioned to produce portraits of Alexander the Great - a powerful Macedonian king - for this other great Alexander. The series is an homage to one of Warhol's longest serving proponents and friends.
Alexander the Great lived from 356 BC - 323 BC, making him the oldest ’celebrity’ to be depicted by Warhol. Rendered in distinctly Warholian bold colours and graphic outlines, the Ancient Greek king was transformed into a Warhol ’Superstar’ of the 1980s.
Iolas played a transformative role in the lives of many modern artists: René Magritte, Max Ernst, Ed Ruscha, and Joseph Beuys, to name a few. It would seem that Iolas had a trained and gifted eye for talent in art, and he propelled his protégés with passion. Since meeting Warhol in 1945, Iolas supported his exhibitions and patronised limited prints and series. Alexander The Great was Warhol's expression of gratitude towards Iolas, and conveyed his great legacy in modern art.
In typical Warhol style, the Pop Artist used a pre-existing photograph of a bronze bust of Alexander the Great as his stimuli. Captured in profile, the original sculpture portrayed the strong features of the young king and his curled locks of hair. In this print series, Warhol emphasised these features with his archetypal graphic lines and layers of ink.
Through his layering of ink and the use of several stencils to produce these prints, Warhol mimicked the texture of the original bronze sculpture. This gave the Alexander The Great prints a grainy quality, which both heightens the aged appearance of the portrait bust, and gives it the appearance of an image printed for mass media.
Even though Alexander the Great was renowned in Ancient Greece, he still piqued the interest of the fame-obsessed Warhol. Since the moment he conceived Pop Art, Warhol turned the celebrities of his age into modern deities. Alexander The Great testifies to Warhol's fascination with icons and celebrity influence.
Warhol and Iolas were bound together from their first meeting in 1945. In the years shortly preceding Iolas' (and Warhol's) death, he commissioned Warhol to produce a series based on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The prints symbolise the ending of a pivotal moment in art history, effected by the death of these two game-changers in modern art.
Some ten years before he commissioned Warhol to produce the Alexander The Great series, Iolas was depicted in a portrait-diptych in 1972. Typical of his printing style at the time, Warhol toys with the repeated image of Iolas over two canvases, distorting colour and mark-making to reveal Iolas' character.
In 1952, Iolas hosted Warhol's first every gallery show, Fifteen Drawings Inspired By Truman Capote. The exhibition was hosted at Iolas' Manhattan bookshop, the perfect location for Warhol's early show inspired by an American novelist. Fittingly, Iolas also staged Warhol's last exhibition, forebodingly titled The Last Supper, in Milan in 1986. Together, the pair put Pop Art firmly on the map of modern art, and this series immortalises their success.