Andy Warhol Mao Signed Screenprint 1972

Mao Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s work was defined by his obsession with fame and the portrayal of icons in popular culture. He was consistently drawn to the representation of figures in the public eye, from his earliest screen prints of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe to his later representations of Vladimir Lenin. One of Warhol’s most recognisable portraits is that of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976). Warhol was compelled to portray Mao as he became increasingly aware of the power and ubiquity of a man who was to become one of the most recognisable figures in modern history.

Warhol’s depiction of Mao was set in motion by President Richard Nixon’s visit to China, an event which was widely publicised on the world’s media stage in its quest to end years of diplomatic isolation between the two nations. Bruno Bischofberger, Warhol’s long-time dealer and supporter in Zurich, also encouraged Warhol to return to painting by making portraits of the man he saw to be the most important figure of the 20th century. The cult of Mao pervaded the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976 with the Chairman’s image becoming the focus of political propaganda disseminated throughout China during this time. This inescapable ubiquity of Mao’s image instantly attracted Warhol, who drew comparisons with his own screen prints of iconic figures as he remarked, “I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.”

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