Flowers Andy Warhol
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Andy Warhol first created a series of Flowers for his inaugural solo exhibition at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964. The show, entitled Flower Paintings, 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.
It has been noted that Warhol was advised by his friend and art critic Henry Geldzhaler to paint flowers. Commentators have speculated that the flowers themselves were symbols of mourning, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy while others have remarked that the series reflects the artist’s engagement with the dawning era of ‘flower power’. Made a year after his Death and Disaster paintings and during the same year as the Thirteen Most Wanted Men portraits, Warhol’s Flowers were potent because they were unexpected and intriguing. Their ambiguity retains the power to captivate. The series demonstrates the artist’s unparalleled ability to take an everyday subject and turn it into iconic Warholian imagery; imagery that continues to intrigue and enthral to this day.
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