Andy Warhol’s Muhammad Ali (F. & S. II.180) depicts the famous boxer dipping his head to the left. A splash of cobalt blue frames his head and chest. Ali’s downward gaze makes his features nearly invisible, and yet he remains recognizable even today. At the time this portrait was taken, Muhammad Ali had been crowed world heavyweight boxing champion for the third time. However, while his fame originated with his athletic prowess, Ali was known worldwide as an orator and activist.
Warhol created this portrait as a part of the larger series Muhammad Ali. In 1977 Richard Weisman commissioned the artist to create a series of portraits of athletes including Ali, Pelé, and Dorothy Hamill. Warhol was initially disinterested in sports, but came to see athletes as surpassing movie stars as the most recognizable celebrities in America. Despite his obscured face, the recognizability of Ali plays into Warhol’s obsession with fame. This interest in celebrity remains a common throughout Warhol’s work from his early portraits of Marilyn Monroe to this Muhammad Ali series in the late 70s. Muhammad Ali continues to instantly identifiable in Warhol’s images even today.