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
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. 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. 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. Then, the shadow image was screenprinted on top, primarily in black silkscreen ink. There were a couple made in silver. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
1. Andy Warhol, "Painter Hangs Own Painting," New York Magazine, February 5, 1979, pp. 9–10.
2. For a more complete biography, visit https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/exposiciones/andy-warhol-a-factory.
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.” 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. 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?