Andy Warhol Screenprints

The American artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), an iconic figure of the Pop art movement of the 1960s, has become recognized as one of the foremost American artists of the twentieth century. His brightly colored portraits of celebrities and images of mass-produced consumer goods—painted and printed in a broad haphazard style—are easily identified by viewers the world over. Raised in a working-class family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute before becoming a successful fashion illustrator in New York in the 1950s. By 1960 he had started to build a career as a fine artist, with paintings, screenprints, and films that were among the earliest examples of American Pop art. Essentially a figurative art movement, Pop emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism in contemporary art, and offered instead a social critique of the consumer culture that was rapidly becoming prevalent in everyday American life. 

Warhol hand-painted his earliest paintings from newspaper advertisements and tabloid photographs before experimenting with photo screen-printing techniques that offered the artist the opportunity to repeatedly reproduce his images—free from any expressive brushstrokes—as if they were commercial products. Many of these early images were taken from news file photographs of disturbing subjects such as car crashes, the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, and the Birmingham race riots. His series of portraits of Marilyn Monroe includes some of the earliest works Warhol made in this manner, first exhibited in November 1962, three months after the actress’s suicide. The artist transferred an enlarged publicity photograph of Monroe onto a fine-meshed fabric screen and printed it in ink on canvas or on paper. Then, he overlaid the portrait with patches of contrasting colors, printed in pastel shades to produce an artificial, masklike effect. Similarly, the image of Jacqueline Kennedy, inexpertly screen-printed onto circular bronze-painted canvases, was copied from a newspaper photograph of the First Lady, taken on the day that the president was shot in Dallas in 1963. As Warhol aged, his subjects became less tragic, and he deliberately concentrated on more banal objects, such as flowers, soup cans, or airline tickets, printed in an impersonal manner with unexpected colors to produce humorous, often unsettling effects. 

Calvin Brown

Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings