Andy Warhol
, 1978–79
Acrylic on canvas, 102 paintings, 193 x 132 x 2.9 cm each
Dia Art Foundation, Beacon, New York
Installation view, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, New York
© 2015, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./VEGAP
Photo: Bill Jacobson

“I called them ‘Shadows’ because they are based on a photo of a shadow in my office. It's a silkscreen that I mop over with paint. I started working on them a few years ago. I work seven days a week. But I get the most done on weekends because during the week people keep coming by to talk.” —Andy Warhol[1]

Andy Warhol (born Andrew Warhola, 1928, Pittsburgh; d. 1987, New York) began his career as a commercial illustrator for magazines after moving to New York City in 1949.[2] As one of the most important Pop art artists, Warhol developed his own iconography from common features of everyday life, advertising, and comics. In the early 1960s, he began his exploration and production of works influenced by mass-produced objects such as Campbell's soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles, and mass media personalities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.

Although he hand-painted some of his artworks, many were created mechanically, using a process called screenprinting. During this process, photographic images can be transferred onto canvas or paper multiple times, allowing works of art to be created in large quantities easily and inexpensively. Warhol’s working process was similar to a factory production of consumer goods. His intention was to make art that looked machine-made, produced in the manner of an assembly line. Warhol referred to his art studio as “The Factory.”

In the late 1970s, the artist decided to set aside the subject matter of cultural icons and familiar consumer items to explore abstract representations. With his new interest in abstraction, he chose to focus on shadows, a subject that had long fascinated him. In 1978, at age 50, Warhol, along with the assistance of his entourage at The Factory, embarked upon the production of a monumental artwork titled Shadows.[3] It consisted of 102 screenprinted canvases that were conceived as one single painting in multiple parts.

To start the screenprinting process, Warhol and his team coated the canvases with acrylic paint, hence the characteristically bright, cheerful color tones. The backgrounds of these canvases were painted with a sponge mop; the streaks and trails left by the mop added “gesture” to the picture plane.[4] Then, the shadow image was screenprinted on top, primarily in black silkscreen ink. There were a couple made in silver.[5] Seven or eight different screens were used to create Shadows, as evidenced in the slight shifts in scales of dark areas as well as the arbitrary presence of spots of light.[6] The way the shadows are positioned varies. Some of the surfaces are matte, and others have thick streaks where Warhol clearly dragged his sponge mop.[7] With two silver exceptions, a tall, narrow form dubbed "the peak" always appears as a black positive on a colored ground. The second form, known as "the cap," is shorter, and always appears, paradoxically, as a negative in a black milieu: an "absent" shadow.[8]

The precise sources for these enigmatic images remain contested. Notwithstanding the artist's own lapidary description of their genesis in "a photo of a shadow in my studio," alternate and conflicting accounts of their origins have been offered, among which the most persuasive is that given by Warhol's studio assistant at the time, Ronnie Cutrone (b. 1948, New York; d. 2013, New York), who remembers Warhol asking him to take photographs of shadows generated by maquettes devised expressly to create abstract forms.[9] Cutrone described how he would go through an extensive editing process, enlarging the images on screens the size of the canvas that they would roll out on the floor, then determining which images would work on this expanded scale.[10]

The first presentation of Shadows was in 1979, in a commercial gallery in Soho, New York. Only 83 of the 102 canvases were shown. Most of them were on display in the gallery, but some were in the office as well.[11] The final number of canvases on display in 1979 was determined by the dimensions of the exhibition space. The frameless pictures were installed edge-to-edge, a foot from the floor, in the order that Warhol’s assistants hung them. Shadows was commissioned by the Lone Star Foundation (now Dia Art Foundation). The commission was for a cycle of 100 paintings but Warhol decided to make an additional eight paintings for his own purposes. In the end, Lone Star's acquisition comprised 102 paintings.[12]

1. Andy Warhol, "Painter Hangs Own Painting," New York Magazine, February 5, 1979, pp. 9–10.
2. For a more complete biography, visit
4. Ibid.
9. Ibid.



Show: Shadows (1978–79)

Spend some time looking at the work. What do you see? Describe your first reaction and try to explain why you think this work elicits that response.

The artist Julian Schnabel (b. 1951, New York) said about Warhol’s painting: “There is almost nothing on them. Yet they seem to be pictures of something.”[13] Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain.

Shadows is a unique work of art made out of 102 canvases. It was conceived as a single painting in multiple parts. It requires more than 137 meters to have all the paintings displayed edge-to-edge.[14] How does the size of the work affect the way you see and interact with this artwork? In the first exhibition only 83 canvases were installed. In what way would a smaller scale affect the work’s impact? Do you think you would have a different perception if you saw only one?

Shadows was made in Warhol’s Factory. With many Warhol works, it is difficult to determine how involved he actually was in the production because his assistants would also work on his paintings. In fact, the whole idea of The Factory was that there was no single person producing the work. How does knowing this affect your appreciation of these paintings? Is it important to you to know whether Warhol or his assistants painted them? What do you think about Warhol’s collaborative process? What questions does this raise about originality?

13. Julian Schnabel, preface to Andy Warhol: Shadow Paintings (New York: Gagosian Gallery, 1989), p. 4.
14. Students can measure their classroom to visualize the size of the artwork.


Create your artwork using the screenprinting technique

Screenprinting is a technique that utilizes stencils to draw or paint identical images. The artist cuts out an image on a sheet of paper or plastic film (stencil), then places it on a very fine mesh screen and later covers the printing surface (the area of the screen that is not covered by the stencil) with printing ink using a squeegee. By wetting the mesh screen, the image is transferred onto the printing surface (substrate). To try the technique with your students you can follow this website. [15]

Composing with shadows

1) Hunt for shadows in your class or in your house. When you discover interesting shadows, document them through photography. The photography should show the shadow and the object that is producing it. You can use a camera or your phone to do it.

2) When you have a group of five or six photographs of shadows that you like, print them on paper.

3) Select one of the photographs and make five photocopies of it. Then carefully cut out the shadows, leaving behind the rest of the image.

4) Try different colored or textured backgrounds by placing the cutout shadows on top of various color paper. Pick five colored papers to place your five cutout shadows. You can try different positions of your shadow until you find the perfect composition. Then glue them.

5) Compare the initial photography of the shadow with the compositions you created with it. Which one is your favorite? Why? Discuss the experience of creating it.

Review Warhol’s exhibition

Andy Warhol wrote about the opening of his show back in 1979, when Shadows was exhibited for the first time: “Someone asked me if I thought they [the Shadows paintings] were art and I said no. You see, the opening party had disco. I guess that makes them disco decor. This show will be like all the others. The reviews will be bad—my reviews always are. But the reviews of the party will be terrific.”[16]

What does this quote tell you about the artist? Write your own review of the current exhibition. Reviews can be good or critical but they need to be supported by specific observations.

15. (Activity in Spanish)
16.Warhol, New York Magazine, p. 10.



Stencil: A template that is used to draw or paint identical letters, shapes, numbers, or other patterns.

Marilyn Monroe: An American actress and model (b. 1926, Los Angeles; d. 1962, Brentwood, California) who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of successful films during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Elvis Presley: American singer and actor (b. 1935, Tupelo, Mississippi; d. 1977, Memphis). One of the most significant cultural icons of the twentieth century, often referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll.”

Pop art: An art movement with its roots in the 1950s that explored the world of popular culture, from which its name derives. Basing their techniques, style, and imagery on certain aspects of mass reproduction, the media, and a consumer society, Pop artists took inspiration from advertising, pulp magazines, billboards, movies, television, comic strips, and shop windows. These images, presented with (and sometimes transformed by) humor, wit, and irony, can be seen as both a celebration and a critique of popular culture.

Screenprinting: Printing technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. The artist creates the stencil by cutting out an image from a sheet of paper or plastic film. The stencil is then placed on a screen of silk or fine mesh fabric. With a blade or squeegee, ink is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures. The image is coated with ink, which is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface.

The Factory: Warhol’s New York City art studio, which had three different locations between 1962 and 1984. The original Factory was on the fifth floor at 231 East 47th Street in midtown Manhattan. The Factory was a celebrated party venue and hangout for artists, musicians, and Warhol superstars. It was also a functioning studio where Warhol’s assistants would make screenprints and lithographs under his direction.

Commission: A request and payment for the creation of a work of art. Artworks may be commissioned by private individuals, the government, or businesses.



Andy Warhol’s biography (In Spanish)

The Andy Warhol Museum (In Spanish)

The Metropolitan Museum, Warhol’s Timeline

Tate Gallery, Andy Warhol Resource Pack

Dia Foundation, Andy Warhol exhibition Shadows

Museum of Modern Art, “What is a print?” activity