Andy Warhol's friendship group, like his entire Pop Art oeuvre, was star-studded. Throughout his life and career, Warhol was surrounded by A-listers who were hungry for the camera, and hungrier still for his. One unlikely but enduring friendship was formed between Warhol and Martha Graham, the legendary modern dancer and choreographer. This series is an homage to their friendship, and also to Warhol's admiration of her craft.
Martha Graham founded her Dance Company in 1926. Located in midtown Manhattan, the Martha Graham Dance Company is known as the oldest American dance company, driven by Graham's innovative approach to choreography. Warhol's 1986 series was created to commemorate the company's 60th anniversary, and raise funds to ensure its longevity.
Described as both the 'Grandmother of Modern Dance' and the 'Picasso of Dance', Graham revolutionised dance with her unique approach to choreography. Through expressive body language, Graham sought to convey the intricacies of the human experience and deep-seated emotions.
Though Warhol created many iterations of his Martha Graham prints in different colours and configurations, the series is composed of three core images. Dynamic and emotive, Warhol pictured Graham in three dance stills: Lamentation, Satyric Festival Song and Letter To The World (The Kick).
Warhol and Graham's friendship blossomed thanks to their shared admiration for each other's craft. As Graham said, “When I first met Andy, he confided to me that he was born in Pittsburgh as I was, and that when he first saw me dance ‘Appalachian Spring’ it touched him deeply”. Graham too was influenced by Warhol's creative spirit: “He touched me deeply as well. He was a gifted, strange maverick who crossed my life with great generosity. His last act was the gift of three portraits he donated to my company to help my company meet its financial needs.”
Through his distinctly Pop application of colour during the printings process, Warhol altered the emotion laden in each of these prints. Though he represented the same three poses of Graham throughout, his variation of bold colour gives each print a unique poignancy.
Graham famously declared that ”dance is the language of the soul”. Through fluid movement, Graham believed that dance could reveal the depths of human emotion.
The photographs of Graham that are appropriated in this series were snapped by Barbara Morgan in 1940. Morgan's photographs are likely the most famous images of Graham, and a crucial part of her iconic image. Warhol's decision to use these particular photographs is typical of his Pop process, re-imagining the familiar images of mass media.
In 1937, Graham became the first dancer to perform at the White House. After dining with the Roosevelts, she performed a series of dances that she choreographed herself. Graham returned to the White House in 1976 to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
By using his screen print to create multiple layers of repeated images, Warhol mimicked the dizzying movement of Graham on the stage. Particularly in his variations of Letter To The World (The Kick), graphic outlines of Graham's body seem to resemble her soul being set free by dance.
Graham was involved as a teacher of dance at her Dance Company throughout her life. Such was her commitment to her students and her craft that she continued to teach until her death in 1991, at the age of 96.