I didn’t know what direction I should go into to describe Andy Warhol’s Shadows series. This single work composed between 1978-1979 is comprised of 102 paintings designed to take the viewer on a journey of light and space. While it is easy to simply write off this ambitious work as a single image painted 102 times, I found it to be an interesting self referential piece that shines a light on the man behind the artist.
When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy. I always want the space to reappear, to make a comeback, because it’s lost space when there’s something in it.”
In Shadows, Warhol took photos of two images in his studio at varying light levels. From those pictures Warhol painted 102 panels representing how light and shadow distinctly influenced each painting. It’s a moody piece that reads as a pictorial diary of the factory studio. If these walls could have talked they would regale us with tales on the legendary “happenings” that took place among the bevy of artists, musicians, drag queens, drug users, socialites, shady hanger-ons, bankers and bums that were a part of the Warhol Superstars; instead, we have an abstract work that invites us to imagine the circumstances that inspired the individual works.
Looking at the intricate differences among the panels it became easier to see how physical and emotional environments could have shaped their artistic variance. In some the acrylic paint forming the base of each piece is the focal point, in others the silkscreened process is dominant, and in many there is a harmonious balance. Similarly, the colorways, brush strokes and paint layering assume an energy that appeared to be either influenced by or reflective of the psyche of the artist and his environment. There were distinctly Warholian pops of saturated color amidst muted tones and grey/black paintings. One panel shows the hazy diffused light reminscient of an overcast day but the next panel featured the same haze but the brush strokes were decidedly more manic. The three categories of color wove their way through the entire work in a decidedly un-patterned pattern.
The work is considered an important bridge between the two poles of his career in pop art transitioning into the abstract.
That’s why I think this work is probably more important than it’s surface view suggests. As Warhol’s work pivoted to abstraction during this time, the meaning behind the piece is veiled leading many to distill this work into a study of light, but to me the shadows hide more than they reveal.
They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
Warhol carefully curated his public persona as the free wheeling ring leader of his own circus, and I think his foray into abstraction was a way to harmonize his public persona with his inner self. By turning a light onto his figurative and personal shadows, he breathed life and emotion into them. Whether or not that served as catharsis to the artist is completely unknown.
Andy Warhol’s Shadows are on view through February 2, 2015 at MOCA Grand in Los Angeles.