Page 20 - Studio International - February 1971
P. 20

                                                                                          perception of the cycle of change of light from
                                                                                          dawn to dusk and back into night's darkness.
                                                                                          These paintings deal with the play of natural
                                                                                          light and reveal changes in its quality, especially
                                                                                          temperature and colouration, as reflected off the
                                                                                          cathedral's façade—but in a sequential manner
                                                                                          according to the degree of light given off by the
                                                                                          earth's position in relation to the sun within a
                                                                                          cycle of one day. Monet creates a complex
                                                                                          metaphor of man's awareness of the passage of
                                                                                          time, of the cosmic forces at play through the
                                                                                          earth's rotation and the burning sun's
                                                                                          irradiation. Monet's vision is one of singular
                                                                                          grace, expressed without any edge of existential
                                                                                          anxiety, or even hint of the destructive forces at
                                                                                          play in the world.
                                                                                            The imagery of Elvis, on the other hand, for
                                                                                          all its representation of the figure of the wild and
                                                                                          woolly west, is patently a figment of
                                                                                          Hollywood's imagination and, as such, is
                                                                                          equally a product of the technology that sired
                                                                                          the film medium and its heroes. Light-borne
                                                                                          images are hardly new, as the stained-glass
                                                                                          windows within the façade of Monet's cathedral
                                                                                          attest. However, the light source that is a
                                                                                          preponderant factor in creating this particular
                                                                                          image of Elvis is as synthetic as the medium
                                                                                          itself, which is as much the product of chemical,
                                                                                          mechanical and optical engineering as of
                                                                                          electricity. Warhol's imagery is the reflection of
                                                                                          a reflection bridged by technology: from the
                                                                                          actor in his role via the camera to the movie film,
                                                                                          transferred to a still photograph, reproduced by
                                                                                          photomechanical enlargement on to the
                                                                                          silkscreen, and thence to the final act of
                                                                                          painting the image on to a silver canvas.
                                                                                            The image is devastatingly banal and
                                                                                          uncharacteristic of Presley. It is not Elvis
                                                                                          Presley the Rock-and-Roll performer—Elvis
                                                                                          gyrating with his guitar—but Presley the actor
                                                                                          pointing a threatening gun to the viewer's head
                                                                                          and parodying a cowboy masculinity and
                                                                                          sensuous femininity of face unrepresentative of
                                                                                          him in real life, or as a singer. Yet when the
                                                                                          paintings are continuously strung along a wall
                                                                                          space, the pervasively rhythmic repetition of the
                                                                                          imagery becomes a metaphor of Rock and Roll's
                                                                                          powerful incessant beat, the fragmented
                                                                                          overprinted images suggesting optical
                                                                                          after-images caused by stroboscopic light. The
                                                                                          variation in the printing of the figures positively
      2 Andy Warhol                             positioned, but the changes in the width of the   enhances this feeling of movement, which is
      Installation shot, Ferus Gallery,
      October 1963                              individual canvases combined with positional   reinforced finally by the lateral spread of the
                                                and tonal distinctions permit singularity yet   repetitive imagery on the continuous silver
      3 Andy Warhol
      Installation shot, Ferus Gallery,         enforce an organic reading of the whole. When   background.
      October 1963                              all the paintings are strung out in a single space,   But the most insistent question posed by the
      Photo: Frank J. Thomas, Los Angeles       the series becomes like a musical mural, so to   Elvis series concerns the nature of their
      4 Andy Warhol                             speak; as the eye of the viewer travels from   specifically charged content, and the viewing of
     Cagney 1963                                canvas to canvas, each is linked to the whole by   Warhol's imagery not as signs, but as icons
      Silkscreen, 30 x 4o in.
      Coll: Ben Berillo                         a continuity of the rhythmic beat of the figure   dealing with a larger content of culture in
      Courtesy Leo Castelli, New York           against the continuous silver ground. In short,   America. To a large group of Americans Presley
      and Mayfair Fine Art, London              there is a lateral spread of time and motion. The   has long been a folk hero, yet his musical
      Photo : Rudolph Burckhardt, New York
                                                rhythm can be scanned at any point; there is no   impact has overshadowed his sociological
                                                beginning or end, nor any hierarchy of position.   significance. Presley's importance is not simply
                                                  Claude Monet, the first serial innovator,   as a popular entertainer but as a bearer of new
                                                captured in 1894 in his series of paintings of the   verities. Both Eldridge Cleaver and Jerry
                                                immobile façade of Rouen Cathedral, his    Rubin, two of the most radical figures to have

   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25