Andy Warhol Mao (F & S II.90 - 99)
Catalogue Title Mao (F & S II.90 - 99) Year 1972 Size 36″ x 36″ 91,44 x 91,44 cm Medium Portfolio of ten screenprints on Beckett High White paper. Edition 250 signed in ball-point pen and numbered with a rubber stamp on verso. There are 50 AP signed and numbered in pencil on verso; some signed and numbered in ball-point pen.
Andy Warhol Mao (F & S II.90-99)Meaning & History
"In present society, Warhol's portraits of Mao transcend their historical moment in revealing to us the gravitas of a sole image."
Mao is a portfolio of ten screenprints produced in 1973. Created just weeks after the U.S President’s visit to China, the portfolio is a pertinent example of Warhol’s ability to capture the most famous living figures of his day. Perhaps no image could be more pertinent to Warhol’s thematic concerns that that of Mao Zedong, whose fame, rather than that of celebrity, symbolised the dangers of unregulated power. The People’s Republic of China, a totalitarian society, bore the exact image Warhol reproduces here everywhere.
In these prints Mao’s frontal portrait meets the direct gaze of the viewer, creating an intimidating impression. As the original image is one that was extracted from Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ - a selection of the dictator’s speeches and writings, its formality affords an emotional distance that the artist favoured for its stylistic potential. Warhol’s vibrant colour silk-screening process alters this seemingly threatening tone into what can be seen as a caricature: in a blue, green and pink rendition (F&S II.93) Mao, adorned with bright pink lips and a painted green face, appears as though he is wearing make-up.
In characteristic wit and ingenuity, Warhol had said when talking about China: ‘The only picture they have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’ Warhol realised the seemingly infinite potential of mass-produced images in his artistic repertoire, rebelling against hundreds of years of art history, turning the predominance of original art work and images on its head. In present society, Warhol's portraits of Mao transcend their historical moment in revealing to us the gravitas of a sole image. For writer and friend of Warhol Bob Colacello, Warhol’s icons ‘were all about what people worship in an irregular or secular world.’ In a contemporary light, with the ubiquity of digital images, this idea is more relevant than ever.
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