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The Flowers print portfolio was created by Warhol following his wildly successful solo exhibition of Flower Paintings in New York, 1964. The show, was a sell-out success and an important moment for Warhol as it signalled the artist’s public transition from commercial illustrator to contemporary New York artist. The following year Warhol exhibited additional Flowers in his 1965 Paris show at the Sonnabend Gallery. In 1970, he went on to create a Flowers portfolio containing ten screen prints.
Warhol’s 1964 Flower paintings show was hugely significant. The gallery walls were lined with canvases of varying sizes, all with the same floral motif in different vibrant colours, and encompassing interesting variations afforded by the screen printing process. On one wall the artist exhibited twenty-eight pieces measuring 24 x 24 inches, each with four flowers screen printed onto canvas. Other larger works featured two flowers.
In focusing on a single subject and repeating this across multiple canvases Warhol referenced mechanical and commercial forms of reproduction found in advertising and the mass media. In 1963, in an article entitled ‘What is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters’ the artist stated “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.” As well as demonstrating the artist’s mastery of the screen print process, Warhol’s Flowers paintings and portfolios are a compelling embodiment of this premise.
Warhol reimagined traditional artistic themes. His Cow re-envisions a pastoral subject, recasting the animal in acid colours, turning it into a repeated graphic motif. His portraits such as Liz and Marilyn are less a contemplation on the personality of his sitter, and more a depiction of the mass media frenzy surrounding the subject. They are portraits of fame. Similarly, the artist’s Flowers paintings are like no other still life floral paintings before them. They are unmistakably Warhol as they engage with questions of appropriation and image production that became central to an understanding of his work.
To create the Flowers series, Warhol used a photograph of hibiscus flowers taken by Patricia Caulfield and found in a 1964 issue of Modern Photography. Caulfield later filed a lawsuit against Warhol for using her image without permission. By using existing imagery as source material, Warhol questioned long-held definitions of ‘fine art’ that centred on traditional understandings of originality and authorship.
Flowers (F. & S. II.65) © Andy Warhol 1970
For centuries painters, printmakers, sculptors and draughtsmen have turned their attention to the beauty and wonder of the natural world. From the delicate studies of flowers in Renaissance paintings to the botanical drawings of the 19th century, there is a rich tradition of art imitating nature.
While Warhol may have been inspired by the masters that came before him, he also elegantly departs from this lineage by showing his flowers still living, against a background of a meadow, rather than plucked and artfully arranged as in the still lifes of art history.
image © Sothebys / Flowers © Andy Warhol 1964
The original image for Warhol’s Flowers was a colour photo of seven hibiscus flowers taken by Patricia Caulfield for Modern Photography magazine. However, Warhol’s image is not an exact derivative. As well as converting the image to black and white in order to add his own layers of colour with the silkscreen technique, he also cropped the image to eliminate incomplete flowers and rotated the flower in the upper corner in order to fit the image into a square. A subtle, but effective, change to the composition that made it into the iconic image it is today.
Flowers (F. & S. II.70) © Andy Warhol 1970
The changes Warhol made to Caulfield’s original photograph were evidently not sufficient to avoid copyright law infringement, and in 1966, Caulfield won her lawsuit against Warhol and was awarded US$6,000 in damages.
After copying the logos and packaging of household products, along with press images of celebrities, for so long, it is perhaps surprising that it was a relatively unknown photograph of flowers that was the cause of Warhol’s first plagiarism offence. Interestingly, it was this brush with the law that pushed Warhol toward working with photography himself, producing polaroid portraits and still lifes which would become the source of his silkscreens in years to come.
Flowers (F. & S. II.67) © Andy Warhol 1970