Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)
signed, inscribed and dated 'to Tim love Andy Warhol 86' (on the overlap)
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas
12 x 12in. (30.5 x 30.5cm.)
Executed in 1986
A gift from the artist to Tim d'Offay in 1986.
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, July-August 1986.
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, Andy Warhol Self-Portraits 1963-1986, April-May 2005.
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Self-Portrait is one of Warhol's last great series of self-portraits which was executed in 1986 for an exhibition at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in July of that year. As David Bourdon has recalled about this exhibition, the initial reaction to the striking images of Warhol that these paintings provoked was profound and many viewers left the show 'deeply moved'. 'Some spectators', Bourdon wrote, 'interpreted the pictures as momento mori, an unblinking, unsentimental view of a hurredly approaching mortality. Others perceived them as a metaphor for the multiplicity of ways in which the artist was perceived.' (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 402.)

Twenty years after the artist's death, the haunting image of himself that Warhol projects in these paintings is as powerful as ever. Having transformed himself in the 1960s - through his sunglasses, wig and shy robotic demeanor - into a nearly two-dimensional icon of celebrity and also, in doing so, into the most recognizable artist of his time, by the 1980s Warhol's personal image had become a completely artificial façade of self-invention. His pale pigmentless skin had been altered and tightened, and his sunken cheeks had been smoothed with collagen injections, he wore a variety of make-up and on his head, and capped it with one of his many famous silver 'fright wigs'.

Staring out at the viewer with expressionless but piercing eyes that seem like the shutters of a camera lens, Warhol exaggerates the strangeness of his appearance by having his wig stand wildly on end. Like a death's-head enshrouded in darkness, Warhol's somewhat fragile image splashes out of the surface of the canvas like an abstract expressionist painting. Poignant, because of the proximity of these portraits to the artist's sudden and premature death in 1987, the flat iconic image presented in this last series of self-portraits comes as close as any of his works to being a visual representation of Warhol's famous maxim about finding the real Andy Warhol, in the surface of his paintings.