Page 19 - Studio International - February 1971
P. 19

Andy Warhol

          and Elvis Presley

           John Coplans

          Social and cultural predictions of Warhol's   Andy Warhol
          serial images.                             Marilyn Monroe 1962
                                                    Polymer silkscreened
                                                    on canvas
          The multiple Elvis paintings derive from a   84 x 46 in.
          publicity still of Elvis Presley posing as a   Coll: René de
                                                    Montaigue, Paris
          gunslinging half-breed cowboy in the movie   Photo : Eric Pollitzer,
          Flaming Star, 1960 (20th Century Fox).    New York
          Silkscreened in black on a plain silver ground,
          they were first shown at the Ferus Gallery, Los
          Angeles, during September and October of
          1963. Unlike Warhol's New York exhibition
          held at the Elinor Ward Gallery in the fall of
          1962, which consisted of extremely diverse
          imagery,1  the Elvis exhibition-as in his first
          one-man exhibition of the Campbell's Soup Cans
          held at the Ferus Gallery the previous summer-
          repeated the use of a single, unified serial theme .
             The exhibition was arranged by telephone.
          In the discussion between Irving Blum (who
          directed the gallery) and Warhol, it was agreed
          that a number of paintings of Liz Taylor would
          also be sent, but on the condition they were to
          be exhibited separately, in another space.2
          Warhol further requested that the Elvis
          paintings be installed as a 'continuous surround'
          with the canvases closely butted around the
          gallery walls. The Elvis paintings were received
          in Los Angeles on a single, continuous roll of
          canvas together with a number of sets of
          knocked-down stretcher bars of equal height,
          but of varying widths. After fitting the stretcher
          bars and marrying them to suitable images, the   medium. But there is very often a discernible   of silver is systematic throughout the Elvis
          roll of canvas was cut and the images stretched.   disparity between the way a painting or series   series. So it is in the portraits of movie actors
          No instructions emanated from Warhol to centre   of paintings may have originally been conceived,   that the marriage of the stars and the silver
          the images; Blum did so on his own initiative   how they are made and what finally happens to   screen begins-the shiny, indeterminate and
          (and on the basis of the centrally disposed image   them. Warhol is apparently extremely   metallic painted surface reflecting the persona
          of the Campbell's soup cans). In the      permissive; there seems to be an implied   of Warhol's drama, as if the canvas is a mirror
          installation, the sequence of the images as they   concession in the way in which his work is   of reality (albeit the special, distilled reality of
          originally appeared on the roll of canvas was   exhibited. Obviously, the Elvis images were   filmland images).6
          abandoned in preference to grouping the    conceived and painted as an environment. They   The silver ground is also crucial to the serial
          paintings around the gallery walls according to   were made on a single roll of canvas; yet the   aspect of the Elvis paintings; thus it is formally
          the most visually pleasing arrangement.3    fact that Warhol supplied the stretchers leads   and iconographically integrated and it provides
          Despite the outstanding success of Warhol's   one to suppose that whatever was originally in   a stabilized background upon which the
          previous New York exhibition, other than for   his mind in the planning and execution of the   rhythmic distinctions are organized. The effect
          younger members of the audience the Elvis   work had been foregone. This series was not   of taking a photograph of Presley, enlarging the
          paintings were coolly received in Los Angeles   kept together; it was finally broken up and sold   scale to slightly larger than life size, and
          and none sold.4                            in New York as individual units. On the other   screening it in units of a single, double or treble
             Throughout Warhol's work-and despite    hand, the 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, which were   image (often overlapped), enhances variety
          certain radical impulses from which his aesthetic   not originally conceived of as a unit, were   within unity, particularly when seen in series.
          devolves -there are obvious and strong attempts   fortunately kept together.         The variation in the density of the screening of
          to maintain, insofar as possible, close links to   The use of a silver ground first occurs in one   the black image on the silver ground intensifies
          the traditional use of medium. Notwithstanding   of the smaller portraits of Marilyn Monroe,   this feeling. The viewer appears to be seeing
          the use of silkscreen, the principle body of his   several of the Liz Taylors, and in at least one of   different movements and apparent changes of
          work is oil paint, or its equivalent, on stretched   the three-quarter length images (derived from   light, when in fact he is seeing a single photo
          canvas. Even the Brillo and various other boxes   a movie still) of Marlon Brando posing as a   reiterated with slightly different screening
          are paint on wood, an extremely traditional   leather-jacketed motorcycle rider.5  And the use    effects. True, all the figures are symmetrically

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