self portraits


“Like I always wanted Tab Hunter to play me in a story of my life--people would be much happier imagining that I was as handsome as Allen [Midgette] and Tab were. I mean, the real Bonnie and Clyde sure didn’t look like Faye [Dunaway] and Warren [Beatty]. Who wants the truth? That’s what show business is for--to prove that it’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.”

Andy Warhol, Popism, 248  

Throughout Warhol’s career his own self-image is perhaps the most pervasive, both those of his own creation and those other photographers snapped; each portrait revealing the shifting moods and looks of different decades. The performative and photobooth-style self portraits of 1960s gave way to other explorations of self in the 70s and 80s

In 1979 Andy Warhol was one of several artists invited by the Polaroid Corporation in Cambridge, MA to work with a new large-format Polaroid camera that was in development. In a somewhat atypical stance, the resulting images from his exploration bring an almost microscopic focus to Warhol’s person. Given his well-known sensitivity about his facial features, these self-portraits turn into something akin to topographical explorations of the lunar surface. Not surprisingly, most of the work in this series depicts a pained, angst-ridden Warhol, a far cry from his usual detached self. This is contrasted with the series of Polaroid photographs showing Warhol in female drag, which are intensely poignant and look to the twilight years of femininity and lost beauty. Perhaps, he was also aping the various Park Avenue matrons with whom he lunched and from whose husbands he garnered portrait commissions in the late seventies and eighties.

Nine months before his untimely death due to complications after gall bladder surgery, Andy Warhol undertook a large series of self-portrait images. Each work centered on a levitating head surrounded by an aureole of spiky hair. This bifurcated image might be given a Freudian read separating out the public from the private man. The artist was very protective of his privacy. Even though he had lavished great time and expense on his last townhouse on New York’s Upper East Side, very few of even his closest friends were ever invited to visit. Only after his death were his generous contributions to charity and efforts on behalf of the needy made public. Indeed, camouflage could be said to be one of the leading metaphors of the artist’s career and his final self portraits the camouflage layering ultimately links the artist with his country. In a sense, Warhol acknowledges that artifice in culture, personality, or nationhood are one and the same. In each, a well-constructed exterior carries and protects that which is most cherished.