Electric Chair Andy Warhol
Find out more about Andy Warhol’s ‘Electric Chair’ series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
Warhol first used the subject of the electric chair in 1963, the same year as the last executions by electrocution in New York state. The artist had his finger on the pulse of popular culture, documenting the people and events that held significance during his lifetime. As such, Warhol’s work has become a powerful reference point for understanding the shifts in American culture and society. Warhol’s Electric Chair Series forms part of the Death and Disaster Series. He began working on this series in the 1960s, focusing on news imagery that sensationalised death and tragedy, from portraits of Marilyn Monroe to pictures of suicides and car accidents. In addition to press material Warhol also used police photographs, taking the original image and repeating it using his signature screen print technique. The resulting works embody fascinating tensions and raise critical questions concerning our position as viewer and voyeur. Warhol draws our attention to the notion of public spectacle by reproducing images that have the power to both repel and enthral.
In 1971, Warhol created a series of ten limited edition screen prints, entitled the Electric Chair Series. The artist based the work on the same photograph of an electric chair that that he had used in previous paintings. This was a 1953 press photograph documenting the equipment used in the high profile executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg at Sing Sing prison. The Rosenberg’s were accused of supplying top-secret information to the Soviet Union and found guilty of espionage.
In the Electric Chair Series Warhol cropped the original press image further, drawing the eye to the haunting spectre of the empty chair in an empty room. The screen printing process allowed Warhol to retain the coarse, grainy quality of a newspaper image while emphasising light and shadow. Warhol reproduced the same image in multiple numbers and different iterations, saturating it in intense colour. The luminous fuchsia pinks, sunshine yellows and sky blues contrast piercingly with stark minimal depiction of the violent subject matter.
Electric Chair asks what happens to the image when it is repeated and treated in this way. Does this distance the viewer from the original image or does it bring the viewer into a new, more concentrated relationship with the subject?
In this work, Warhol explores the potential emptying of meaning that comes with the oversaturation of imagery. The artist once said, “the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.” His comment could not be more timely or relevant to a contemporary moment defined by the remediated image. Every day we experience the world through a glut of repeated imagery communicated in the form of digital, social and mass media. Within this context, the Electric Chair Series continues to resonate powerfully.
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