Mao (F. & S. II.93) from the Mao series (1972) is one of Andy Warhol’s most recognisable prints that shows a portrait of the formidable communist leader of China, Mao Zedong with a bright green face. To create the image, Warhol appropriated an official propaganda image of Mao, from a publication called the Little Red Book, that was widely disseminated throughout China as a communist political tool.
The pervasiveness of Mao’s image captured Warhol’s attention, likening the original image to his own screen prints of celebrity icons: ‘I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’
Warhol heavily manipulates the colour of the original image, giving Mao a bright green face, pink lips and pink tunic, set against a blue backdrop. Gestural brushstrokes and lines can be seen on the print, mimicking the bold painting style championed by the Abstract Expressionist movement that was synonymous with the capitalist American ideals of individual expression. Reproducing this image over and over through the screen printing method, Warhol points to the suppression of individual expression in Mao’s communist China and directly compares this to the dissipation of mass-media images in 1970s America.