Andy Warhol Skulls (F & S II.157-160)Facts | History | Meaning
Catalogue Title: Skulls (F & S II.157-160) Year: 1976 Size 30 x 40″ 76.2 x 101.6 cm Medium: Screenprint on Strathmore Bristol paper. Edition: Edition of 50, 10 AP, signed and numbered in pencil as follows: II.157 and II.159- lower left; II.158- lower center; II.160-signed lower right, numbered lower left.
Andy Warhol Skulls (F & S II.157-160)Meaning & History
In Skulls, Warhol vividly restyles one of the most famous classical genre paintings - memento mori - depicting a reminder of death. Death and disaster were key themes to the Pop artist, contrasting with his colourful palette.
Skulls is a portfolio of four screenprints produced by the artist in 1976. Here Warhol has taken one of the most classical genre paintings – memento mori, often depicting skulls as a morbid reminder of one’s mortality, and revived it in his own unique art historical framework.
Each print depicts a skull in a different angle and colourway, an outcome that was created by Warhol instructing his studio assistant, Ronnie Cutrone, to take photographs of the skulls whilst changing the position of the light to create different shadows. The photographs then inspired Warhol’s drawing and colouring of this interplay between light and shadow as seen in the present work. II.159 is a particularly morbid-looking example as the red bottom half of the print looks like a pool of blood, whilst II.158 juxtaposes a euphoric sunflower yellow with the macabre skull.
In the wider context of Warhol’s work, Skulls fits in with a salient theme that the artist returned to many times, of death and violence. It inspired one of his most renowned and most commercially successful series, Death and Disaster, which comprised around seventy works and treated catastrophic subject matter such as electric chairs, car accidents and the assassination of the president. Skulls does not depict disasters such as these but deals with the same core issue through repurposing one of the oldest forms of painting, the still life. Warhol produced very few still lifes throughout his career, and when he did they were often photographs, thus making this present example rare. The silkscreen version of the portfolio is held in the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland.
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