Gems Andy Warhol
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Once an established artist, Andy Warhol himself became a keen jewellery collector and was said to have attended many parties adorned in elaborate jewels by designers such as Cartier and Harry Winston. Despite this, the extent of his love for precious gems was not fully appreciated until after his death, when his cherished hidden jewellery collection was discovered in his former home. Warhol’s Gems series therefore also adopts an autobiographical interpretation: the scale of his wealth and celebrity never truly revealed until after his lifetime.
The Gems series was produced in 1978, toward the end of his career, and consists of four screen prints depicting rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. The series is characteristic of the style of Warhol’s later work, exploring a more expressive technique with the use of hand-drawn lines to emphasise the form and features of the subject he depicts.
Warhol was one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, notorious for his fascination with popular culture, consumerism, and celebrity. Through his obsession with fame and the representation of icons such Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, Warhol also developed a fascination with their worlds of wealth and glamour. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the artist chose to dedicate an entire print series to the representation of rare and precious gemstones.
Through this experimental use of lines and colour, Warhol’s Gems series demonstrates his playful approach to traditional still life drawing and contrasts distinctly to the more mechanical aesthetic of his earlier work. This can be seen in other later portfolios such as his Skull and Mick Jagger series. Still, it is particularly evident in Gem 189, in which Warhol portrays a round cut emerald gem, emphasised with colours of greens and blues. Again, the artist subverts the traditional still life with his Pop Art interpretation, contrasting the stone against pink and orange blocks of colour that emphasise the emerald’s green hue.
Warhol’s depiction of a ruby gemstone in Gem 186 is perhaps one of the most symbolic of the series. In this image Warhol details the ruby with deep reds and pinks, adding juxtaposing purple shadows that give the still life its Pop Art spin. The ruby held great significance for Warhol in his fascination with the actress Elizabeth Taylor who was widely known to adore rubies. Taylor’s love for rubies would later lead her ruby ring collection to break the ‘price per carat’ record when it 4.2 million dollars at auction in 2011. This print therefore embodies the surface beauty and glamour of celebrity culture exemplified by Taylor, as Warhol once remarked, “it would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger.”
Whilst Warhol’s Gems series was a departure from his most widely recognised depictions of celebrity culture, these semi-precious gems remain an embodiment of the beauty and glamour that is synonymous with the icons he sought to portray.
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