For my first post in the “Moving Pictures” series, I’m going to cover a Warhol silkscreen, just as I promised. But- don’t get too excited- I’m not going to get all mainstream on you- no Marilyn Diptychs for me, at least for now. I’m going to go with some prints that were once, at least, equally famous or certainly one of the luminaries of the Silver Screen- Elizabeth Taylor.
Love her or hate her, Liz Taylor certainly created a stir in Hollywood and proved to be one of its most iconic and troubles characters. Regardless of your own opinion, Andy Warhol loved her. Warhol, as you most definitely know, was one of the paramount “Pop Artists.” He is best known for his obsession and willingness to mock the “Cult of Celebrity.” Really, he’s the frontrunner of all movie bloggers. We love to be critical, to poke fun, to laugh at the stars- but without them- we would have nothing to blog about. In a similar way, Warhol took advantage of America’s obsession with celebrity, poked fun at it, while making a huge fortune over his silkscreens.
Like I said, Andy Warhol was fascinated by Liz Taylor and in the early ‘60s, as she was very ill, but still at the top of her stardom, he made a series of prints based on a publicity photo. From what AI researched, he based his prints off of a 1960’s publicity photo of Butterfield 8. I couldn’t find the exact photo, but I included a sample publicity shot for you to enjoy.
His versions of Liz are essentially very simple. Her face is simplified and dabbed up with color, but it is essentially very much still her. I read in one criticism that the dabbed colors are Warhol’s attempt to capture the sensuality of Liz Taylor and aggressiveness it often contained. This Liz Taylor looks almost fierce, with her war-paint on and grotesquely heavy eye-shadow. At the time of these prints (1963-65), she was very ill, but still had to put on her makeup and look pretty to reassure her fans that their favorite star was still alright. It’s beautiful, certainly, but it is also tragic. Doesn't she almost appear clownish when Warhol applied the other colors as he did?
I personally, like these prints because I feel that Warhol attempted to capture not only the likeness of Liz Taylor, but her perceived personality and her Hollywood persona. It’s point is not to ridicule Liz as much as to show her as an icon of Hollywood, and perhaps and misused and tragic one at that.
This is iconic American artwork. It’s subject is distinctly American, distinctly a source of “worship” from the “cult of celebrity.” It’s artist is now similarly worshiped and his work critically acclaimed. More importantly, Warhol did this before he was hugely popular, hugely commercial. This work has some meaning, some emotion in it. I love portraiture because it allows the artist to go beyond his or her technical skills. It allows them to delve into the depth of a person, to attempt to portray not only a subject’s individual likeness, but their personality. It allows him to show not only his love and admiration for Liz Taylor, but also his pity. And I feel that’s been incredibly accomplished here.
So, in summary, Warhol created this silkscreen not only to create a lasting tribute to a living legend, but to show how primitive our obsession with the stars is by reducing Liz as both beautiful and tragic.