Picturing – de-picturing: images of Warhol

Figure 1
‘‘Andy Warhol, 1952-1954’, Photograph by Otto Fenn’, as reproduced in: Butin, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture. Self portraits and self-promotion’ in: Eva Meyer-Hermann, Andy Warhol. A guide to 706 itmes in 2 hours 56 minutes, (Rotterdam 2008), pp. 46-55, see p. 48

In his article ‘Andy Warhol in the picture. Self portraits and self-promotion’, Hubertus Butin argues that the ubiquitous fame of Andy Warhol is for a large amount due to Warhol’s very conscious and very succesful strategies to create a public image as a glamourously famous and succesful, a mythical cult figure. Although Warhol worked a range of different media in a range of different roles, ‘as painter, graphic artist, draftsman, photographer, filmmaker, music and television producer, author, publisher and model’ according to Butin, and influenced Pop Art and popular culture in many ways with his works, his greatest achievement may not have been the ‘particular aesthetic of his work and its sheer recognizability’ but to create a new definition for ‘a succesful artist and become hero and role model for latere generations of artists’. [1]

Butin draws upon a collection of portraits of Warhol, made by the man himself or others. A lot of these portraits, shot from the 1950’s up till the 1980’s, show Warhol with his face shielded from the camera, often covering his face with his hands. Butin discusses a range of theses pictures (see fig. 1 for one of them).  

At the same time, there are portraits in which Warhol uses his face to construct different types of self-rendering. An example of one type of self-rendering is in the self-portraits from the 1977 and 1979, in which Warhol superimposes two or three photographs of his head, thereby making a reading of the face impossible (fig. 2).

Still another type we find in the portraits in which Warhol creates idealized renderings, wanna-be constructs, as in a self-portrait of 1964, that was based on a photoboot picture, and in which he presents himself as very self-confident and somewhat arrogant. According to Butin the image was made with similar methods and colors, and thus in obvious parallel to them,  as Warhol’s iconic portraits of Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, also made in 1964, Warhol with these measures enhancing himself to star and celebrity status.

Remarkably Butin doesn’t mention yet another again very different line of self portraiture of Warhol. In the series of drag portraits (see fig. 3) Warhol made in 1981-1982, with the help of a photographic assistant, Christopher Makos, Warhol wears a lot of make up and is more or less disguised. You could see him as wearing a mask. At the same time, he is also very visible, recognisable and plain. The unassuming wide-eyed look does make him seem vulnerable and exposed.

Figure 3
‘Self portrait in drag’, all four works are titled this way and are part of a larger series. They seem not to have been numbered or otherwise been distinguished with titles.
https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/SELF-PORTRAIT-IN-DRAG–FOUR-WORKS-/AEEFFD576B4845D8, accessed at 2-6-2020

Another again very different type of self-portrait is included by Butin, although this one seems to never have been exhibited, according to the caption.[2] In this one Warhol hides his face again. But this time it is a line drawing, that has nothing in common with the art Warhol became famous for. It more looks like a sort of illustration (see fig. 4).

Figure 4
‘Self-portrait 1950s’, Butin, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture’, p. 49

The status of the drawing, or the occasion or purpose of its making, is not clarified in Butin’s text.[3] The pose could be drawn from the picture made by Otto Fenn in the beginnings of the 1950’s (see fig.1). In the early years of the 2000’s a range of books were published about Warhol’s ‘secret’ or private drawings of the 1950’s that show his work and talents from a completely different angle as his later pop art work. Warhol alledgedly made illustrative drawings with accompanying texts, also in colloboration with others, and produced a couple of booklets of them. The drawings are light-footed and witty[4]. In 2003 there was a also exhibition of them and a accompanying catalogue.[5] The resemblance of the pose in the self-portrait drawing that Butin shows, to the one of the Fenn picture, pointing to a possible relation between the two, is  given more interest by a commentory text on the publishers page of one of these books on his drawings. It says: ‘This book considers the importance of drag to Warhol’s work and its debt to photographs that his friend, photographer Otto Fenn, staged explicitly for Warhol’s use.’[6]

Butin presents the two pictures close to each other, but separate, and, as said, doesn’t say much to the possible links between the two. In fact, he hardly says anything at all about it. The only reason for prominently including this line drawing, seems to be in the illustrative value for the habitual gesture of Warhol hiding his face, for Butin ‘he is dissociating himself in purely pictorial terms from his outward appearance’ and ‘draws an aethetic line between himself and an imagined public  which precludes any direct contact with the viewer’. [7] It is a concluding remark Butin makes after describing some other portraits in which Warhol hid his face with his hand, curiously not including the images of these described and published portraits, instead of the line drawing.

Another striking fact is that Butin goes at length to argue about the constructions of Warhols portraits, and present them as evidence to Warhols uncertainty and shyness about his looks and his construction of an idealized and fame fitting production, and uses psychological terms to state his points, but that he hardly ever quotes Warhol himself, while he does draw a lot upon biographical accounts and other sources for stating information about how to look at Warhol. The only time he more or less lets Warhol speak for himself, apart of course from showing the visuals, is to underline the idea of Warhols deliberate construction of an ‘enigmatic identity’with the statement that ‘he openly declared that he woud prefer to remain a mystery’.[8] There is a kind of hostile flavour to the way Butin renders his account of how Warhol’s art work and artistic programs coincides with his commercial insight, and how his exploration of his self imagery explore being (and being shy), wanna-being or posing. It is hard to pinpoint how this comes about, but it has to do with the seemingly detached or objective style of his account, while using a lot of descriptions of Warhol and his doings that have a pejorative ring to it, as for example in wordings such as ‘presumptuous apotheosis and self-mythologization’.[9] I cannot make out exactly why this would be the case. It seems as if Butin is debunking a myth, and has to assemble all of his rhetorical force to get his message to the public. A statement that Warhol was very interested in celebrities, fame, commercial succes, stardom, doesn’t seem able to raise a lot of opposition, and the fact that the content and form of a lot of activities of Warhol supported not only his art, but also him being famous as an artist who is famous, can’t really be viably contested since Warhol was famous and known by a general public in the 1980’s. And Butin’s writing was published in 2008. It seems to be a fact, though, that Warhol in his pop art was seriously involved with his career as a public persona all the time and for example didn’t use other talents or dispositions such as the sense of humour that he shows in his ‘private drawings’. Maybe the tune he whistled is echood in the response.

[1] Hubertus Butin, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture. Self portraits and self-promotion’, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture. Self portraits and self-promotion’ in: Eva Meyer-Hermann, Andy Warhol. A guide to 706 itmes in 2 hours 56 minutes, (Rotterdam 2008), pp. 46-55, see p. 47

[2] Butin, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture, p. 49

[3] On the internet though, similar style line drawings can be found under the title ‘Andy Warhol, private drawings from the 1950’s’. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/standard-pictures/andy-warhol-private-drawings-from-the-1950s-7367931.html, accessed at 15:33

[4] See also: https://hyperallergic.com/416162/andy-warhols-whimsical-drawings-before-he-went-pop/

[5] See https://www.rbge.org.uk/whats-on/inverleith-house-archive/andy-warhol-private-drawings-from-the-1950s/ accessed 2-6-2020

[6] https://www.newmuseumstore.org/andy-warhol-drag-and-draw accessed 2-6-2020

[7] Butin, ‘Andy Warhol in the picture, p. 49

[8] Ibid., p. 52

[9] Ibid.

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