Andy Warhol. Even those who do not follow or study art recognize the name. While Warhol is regarded as the leader and pioneer of the Pop Art movement, he was also a celebrity and icon in his own right. The artist used imagery culled from newspapers, popular magazines, and advertisements to transform the commonplace things of everyday life into something worthy of the distinction of “art.” In many ways, much of what Warhol did for Pop Art in the 1960s was a precursor to the cool, slick surfaces of Minimalism that followed in the 1970s. His use of repetition was a means of hastening the boredom of the viewer, rendering even the most shocking subject matter banal, devoid of its initially potent meaning.
Currently, we are lucky to have three separate series by the artist on view – Myths, Soup Cans, and Flowers. In 1964, Warhol produced his first Flowers series, based on a photo spread of hibiscus flowers by Patricia Caulfied in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. To produce the 1964 series, the artist used a combination of techniques – appropriating the image, cropping it, enhancing the colors, then utilizing silkscreen, acrylics, Day-Glo paint, and pencil. Each canvas is a perfect square, freeing the works from having a set orientation, and thus allowing them to be installed various different ways. Warhol’s 1970 Flowers portfolio, on view, is based on the same hibiscus photos; however, he explored new color combinations and worked strictly using the silkscreen technique.
As with much of Warhol’s work, I find that there is a dark side to his Flowers series, beyond their seemingly light-hearted façade. The flower is beautiful, but ephemeral and delicate. Particularly with his first 1964 Flowers, the dark background is menacing, and presents jarring contrast with the day-glo, almost cartoon-ish flowers. Ronnie Cutrone, Warhol’s assistant of ten years (1972-1982) has suggested that the series is Warhol’s spin on the flower power movement – exposing the urban, darker underbelly of a hippie movement that he may have been experiencing in New York City.
The portfolio is on view on Level One between Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, above Versace.