Fascinated with the sheer glamour and tragedy of Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol represented the grieving wife of former-president John F. Kennedy soon after his assassination in 1963. The series marks a quintessential instance of Pop Art, which mirrored the desensitising nature of mass media.
In this stark series, Warhol collaged and screen printed images of Jackie Kennedy both before and after the assassination of JFK. Her image was one all too familiar to the American public after JFK's death, and Warhol's series appears almost like a timeline of this tumultuous period in her life and American politics.
Though Jackie was not a Hollywood starlet, she received star-studded treatment by Warhol. Much like his Pop portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, Warhol's 1964 portrait of the former First Lady depicts her as a true Warholian icon, with bold colour and celebrity glamour.
By depicting Jackie against muted colour backgrounds and repeating her portrait over the composition, Warhol highlighted the way mass media amplifies tragedy. By appropriating familiar photographs of Jackie, Warhol proved how ingrained the catastrophe was in public consciousness.
Warhol rarely ever worked in monochrome, opting instead for the bold colours which underscore consumer culture. When he turned his attention to the tragic figure of Jackie Kennedy, however, his monochromatic images mirrored the newspapers they came from and forced the viewer to contemplate her devastation alone.
Jackie wore her pink Chanel suit on the day of her husband's assassination, 22 November 1963. In many works from this series, Warhol re-represents images of Jackie smiling in the suit before it was marked with JFK's blood later the same day.
After his death, Warhol created screen prints depicting JFK smiling to the public. These works, like the Jackie Kennedy series, are testament to Warhol's constant finger on the pulse of history.
After learning of JFK's assassination, the first thing Warhol said was "well, let's get to work." His Flash November 22 series, which depicted the former president in distinctly Pop style, proved controversial because of Warhol's insensitivity to the tragedy.
Throughout his career, Warhol was occupied by death and the representation of it in mass media. His famed Death And Disaster series, and bodies of work like Electric Chair and Jackie Kennedy, are testament to his macabre fascination with public death.
In his Flash November 22 series, Warhol only represented Jackie once. The photograph he appropriated, once again, shows Jackie in her pink Chanel suit hours before the assassination. In his subsequent Jackie Kennedy series, Warhol focused solely on her grieving.
As much of Warhol's work from the 1960s demonstrates, the imagery mass-circulated by media outlets can desensitise us. Through his repeated images of the grieving Jackie Kennedy, Warhol evinced how the media almost glamorised JFK's assassination. As the Pop Artist said in an interview: "What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from the thing."