Self -Portrait Strangulation
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London 2009

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Self -Portrait Strangulation 1978
  • Artist Rooms
Warhol drew and painted self-portraits since he was a teenager. He was dissatisfied, to the point of obsession, with the way he looked and was very careful with the way he both presented himself artistically and marketed his image. In these six works (displayed as a group) he shows himself seemingly in a life-threatening situation. The hands of an unseen assailant strangle him, while his eyes are directed heavenward rather like a martyred saint. The predominantly dark colours, some partly obscuring his head, as well as the ‘expressionist’ brushwork, give the paintings a distinctly ominous feel. Warhol was shot and critically injured in 1968 and, although death was a recurring theme in his work since the early 1960s, this experience heightened his fears about dying.

Glossary Open

Expressionism

A style that made an impact in the arts in the 1920s, particularly in Germany. Expressionists deliberately abandoned realistic representation techniques in favour of exaggerations and distortions of line and colour that were intended to carry far greater emotional impact.

Martyrdom

Death due to a person's adherence to a religious faith. It is also used to describe prolonged or extreme suffering of any kind.

Expressionism, Martyrdom

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Self-Portrait (Strangulation) comprises six silk-screened canvases assembled in a vertical grid of three pairs, each silk-screened in vertical bands of pink, red, yellow, blue, and grey. Horizontal smears of paint are also apparent across the surface of each canvas. The single monochrome panel, placed on the left side of the central row, is dark-toned, painted with shades of grey that partially obscure the image of Warhol’s face as he undergoes ‘self-strangulation’.

The six canvases were made in Warhol’s New York studio, known as the Factory, on unstretched canvas, rolled out flat on the studio floor. For these works Warhol used photo-silkscreens and employed an assistant named Rupert Smith to help with screen-printing. Synthetic polymer paint, a fast drying alternative to oil paint, was used as the background onto which the image was screen-printed.

The work is both ambiguous and ironic. The subject matter – death by strangulation – might be compared with Warhol’s Death and Disaster series of 1962–3 in which he enlarged and displayed images of violence, notably car crashes or press photographs of police dogs attacking protestors. However, the images here suggest a staged and potentially comical act, similar in concept to the earlier self-relating work Self-Portrait (Being Punched) 1963–6 (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh).

Warhol famously proclaimed that ‘in the future, everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes’ but lived with the pressures of celebrity life in the public imagination for much of his career. This peaked when on 3June 1968 Valerie Solanis, a part-time extra in Warhol’s films, appeared at The Factory and shot him. Although he survived, the near-death experience had a profound effect on Warhol and the theme of his own mortality featured prominently – even if sometimes facetiously – in much of his late work (see, for example, Self-Portrait with Skull 1978, AR00610).

Further reading
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1977.
Kynaston McShine (ed.), Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1989.
Roland Waspe (ed.), Andy Warhol: Self Portraits, trans. by Bernhard Geyer and John S. Sutherland, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004.

Oliver Lurz
October 2011

 

Details

  • Acc. No. AR00503
  • Medium Acrylic paint and silkscreen on canvas
  • Size Each part: 40.80 x 33.10 x 1.80 cm (framed: 132.10 x 74.30 x 6.20 cm)
  • Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008