In 1964 Andy Warhol, the famed American Pop artist interested in the world of commercialisation, turned to the traditional genre of still life in his series Flowers.
Though flowers are not outwardly commercial subjects, this series of works quickly became one of his most well-known. And for good reason – not only because of their multitude. Warhol was known to turn out as many as 80 paintings a day during the Factory’s heyday, eventually completing over 900 paintings all on the same basic image. While the images were very similar, they’re also diverse and in depth.
1. The basic image was derived from a colour photo of seven hibiscus flowers
The basic image was taken by Patricia Caulfield and found by Warhol in Modern Photography magazine. Yet, Warhol’s image is not an exact derivative – he did a 1960s manual version of Photoshop manipulation to the image. Before converting the image to black and white, Warhol made two notable amendments: he cropped the image to eliminate incomplete flowers and rotated the flower in the upper corner in order to fit the image into a square. Subtle, but effective.
2. Warhol purposely and ironically used unnatural colours
In Flowers Warhol used bright and luminous colours, including electric green to depict the grass as well as bright shades of pink, yellow and orange for the flowers. In doing so, Warhol mocks the naturalness of the flowers by synthesising them mechanically. An unnatural depiction of the natural world, proving that even flowers weren’t safe from America’s commercialisation.
3. In fact, Flowers are Warhol’s most abstract works
The hibiscuses are often misidentified by viewers, likely because of the degree of flatness. The flatness of the flowers is paired with that of the background which is translated into two-tones. Further, there are no flower stems to connect the petals to the grass, removing any sense of a specified space. Critics have identified this as purposeful – it denies Warhol’s Flowers to specify a top and bottom. Warhol delighted in this quality of the series and requested that the works were installed in a random mix of “any side up.”
4. Flowers were a response to his prior Death and Disaster series
This prior series, which included disturbing works such as Electric Chair, was exceptionally unsuccessful – initially, Warhol couldn’t sell a thing. It was suggested that he proceed onto a happier subject, like flowers. And so he did, immediately selling out at their first exhibition at Leo Castelli gallery.
5. Yet, Flowers is not much different from his prior series
Flowers do not depict the assumed beauty and harmony of a floral still-life. Instead, the Flowers series is strangely dark and melancholic in form and tone. Not only do his flower petals take the forms of pools of red colour reminiscent of the pools of blood seen in works from the prior series, but the subject is historically representative of fragility. As such, Flowers, though outwardly different from the prior tragic works, are not so different after all.