An Icon of Andy Warhol
Pop artist Andy Warhol, a man captivated by popular culture and individual humanity, has created countless iconic images of the 20th century including a piece conceived in 1976 titled Skulls. Warhol was primarily known for his cultivation of the celebrity and his pop art styles, as seen in Skulls, have become a major influence in modern contemporary art. The series Skulls represents a pivotal shift in both Warhol’s life and practice due to a traumatic experience he endured eight years prior when he was shot and severely injured. Consequently, this piece depicts a far-reaching motif instilled in most of his art work: his desire to evoke the human condition and in this case, the concept of death. The final product being Warhol’s attempt to acknowledge the overwhelming fear of our own mortality, and the fact that death, despite all human intervention, is inevitable.
Skulls is comprised of six abstract paintings depicting six skulls each with individual vibrancy but symmetric in form. The piece is an absolutely sensational sight, the representation of rhyme in the piece is especially satisfying. Showcasing Warhol’s incredible pop art style while also revealing Warhol’s motivation for creating art through its underlying meaning. The skull is a ubiquitous symbol illustrating the mortality of every human being, and in Warhol’s case a reminder for the viewer that death is inevitable.
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Warhol created this piece in his personal New York studio, formerly known as the Factory, alongside his assistant Rupert Smith. Warhol used both acrylic and synthetic polymer paint, a faster drying alternative to oil paint, on top of six unstretched silkscreen canvases that had been rolled out on the studio floor. Fluid brushstrokes and tracings of finger markings are peppered across the layers of acrylic paint, creating unsettled surfaces that showcase Warhol’s poetic movements. Warhol most famously uses he concept of repetition in his work, utilizing the skulls as powerful symbols of death, magnifying our fear of mortality. The skulls being primarily soft-edged and symmetric created a more dulcet, rhythmic form that is more pleasing to the eye. The use of not only animated primary colors, but secondary and tertiary colors layered over a black and white canvas allows for a contrast in the stark, yet exciting hues with the more somber subject matter. Emphasizing much of the focus on the individuality of the skulls punctuates the tone of the work as a whole. This aesthetically brilliant masterpiece invites the viewer’s eye to constantly divulge into the multitude of colors and ricochet about the alluring yet eerie images.
Warhol is most notably known for the work he cultivated during the Pop Art period in the early 1950’s. Artists during this time drew much inspiration from mass media, popular culture, and social icons; Warhol being no exception to this artist movement embraced and heightened the ideas that sprang from the Pop Art period. At first, like most pop art enthusiast, Warhol aimed to blur the boundaries between “high” and “low” art culture by celebrating commonplace objects and everyday life. Despite the movement being somewhat emotionally removed, Warhol challenged several controversial topics that most pop artists during his time did not dare to touch. Skulls being one of those taboo pieces made by Warhol, depicted symbols of death and the fear of mortality. Warhol, a man already hypnotized by the symbolic nature of death, became even more enamored after the events that took place on June 3rd 1968. Having been shot and almost killed at the Factory by Valerie Solana, Andy Warhol dramatically reignited his artistic motives and amply change his outlook on life forever. Warhol’s attitude towards the inevitable became imbued with both fear and reassurance. Warhol uses the stark, emptiness of the skulls to serve as friendly reminders that life will always end with death, and the uniqueness of each skull symbolizes the idea that death does not discriminate no matter how “unique” a person is. The fragility of life, and unpredictability of death gave much inspiration to Warhol’s art, allowing him to create some of the most powerful and celebrated works of the 20th century.
Skulls, an iconic staple in Andy Warhol’s extravagant collection of art, would be later a key factor in establishing him as one of the most significant and influential visual artists in western visual culture. Skulls serves as Warhol’s direct confrontation with death, and his celebration of his own mortality. The incredible quality of the individual paintings, the utilization of diverse colors, and the overbearing theme of the piece embodies Warhol’s unique style and ensures Skulls reputation as one of the most historic pieces created in the 20th century.