Andy Warhol’s paintings of death & disaster

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Andy Warhol - Black and White Disaster #4 (5 Deaths 17 Times in Black and White), 1963, acrylic, silkscreen ink and pencil on linen, installation view, Kunstmuseum Basel, 2018

Andy Warhol – Black and White Disaster #4 (5 Deaths 17 Times in Black and White), 1963, acrylic, silkscreen ink and pencil on linen, installation view, Kunstmuseum Basel, 2018, photo: Public Delivery

Published on: Wednesday October 9, 2019

Last updated

Introduction

Andy Warhol created a series of artwork with a distinctive act of discrepancy, which he named Death and Disaster. Death and Disaster show images in one color, a reproduction of the same images, or the same images with no color entirely.

Andy Warhol majorly used repetition to communicate his ideas. He successfully employed this technique with a range of subjects over the years. The series started in 1962 and consists of a collection of around 70 slightly similar works. The artist used the element of repetition in Death and Disaster to bring out both motivated and non-motivated purposes of art.

From his Death and Disaster series, Andy Warhol clearly brought out the motivated functions of art such as art for propaganda, political change, communication, entertainment, and others. On the same time, the work also brings out the non-motivational functions including rhythm and balance, the instinct for harmony, the expression of imagination, the mysterious experience, symbolic, universal communication, and ritualistic functions.

Video: The Death Paintings

3 min 21 sec

How the paintings came about

As pointed earlier, the majority of Andy Warhol paintings were from newspaper cuttings, and in the 1960s the country was riddled with tragic and disaster news such as tragic death of suicides, executions, and crashes. The Death and Disaster series contains images with only one hue of color or a repetition of the same photograph, or had a replication, with or without color. The images typically tend to enlarge the portrayed tragedies and disasters which are more often reported on newspapers. Andy Warhol used Death and Disaster work to try as much as possible to desensitize the masses into accepting death, disasters, and tragedies as part of their lives.

Andy Warhol - Twelve Electric Chairs, 1964, Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 88 1/2 x 84 1/4 inches

Andy Warhol – Twelve Electric Chairs, 1964, Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 88 1/2 x 84 1/4 inches, photo: brantfoundation.org

Andy Warhol - Twelve Electric Chairs, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 92 x 88 1/3 in

Andy Warhol – Twelve Electric Chairs, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 92 x 88 1/3 in, photo: venusovermanhattan.com

Andy Warhol - Little Electric Chair, 1964-1965, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 55.9 x 71.1 cm (22 x 28 in)

Andy Warhol – Little Electric Chair, 1964-1965, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 55.9 x 71.1 cm (22 x 28 in), photo: christies.com

Warhol’s inspiration

According to Andy Warhol, when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect. He started painting death images because his head was preoccupied with tragic news from radios, newspapers, and television.

In his interview with Gene Swenson in 1963, the Andy Warhol revealed after being asked why he started with “Death” pictures:

I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of the newspaper: 129 dies. I was also painting the Marilyns1. I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day – a holiday- and every time you turned on the radio they said something like ‘4 million are going to die.’ That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect.

Video: Warhol’s Factory studio manager about Death & Disaster

2 min 34 sec

Analysis

Each image in the series is supposed to be understood and appreciated differently because they possess each separate uniqueness and freedom. The difference in each painting is gleaned by a unique act of distinction. Death and Disaster paintings draw on the intellect of the viewers to be understood. Andy Warhol used different colors to propagate the variation in the time that people can appreciate on their own free will. For example, the artist’s green car accident and orange disaster are completely not accidental. They both offer viewers a chance to interpret them as they wish.

Conclusion

Death and Disaster are closely linked to Andy’s personal life, making more relatable to the viewers than other pieces of repetition art. While works from Death and Disaster were never going to be as appealing as other pieces of arts, it is has become one of the most admired pieces of art.

Works from Death and Disaster

The Orange disaster, 1963

This painting by Andy Warhol is a replica of fifteen photographs of an electric chair. The painting indicates the artist unnatural fascination with death as well as his rare and unique ways of appreciating nature. Andy Warhol had a unique way of making distressing images into something that is pleasing to the eye by adding colors, in this case, orange tint, which reduces the somber mood. While the resulting images have some tones of brightness and happiness, still some viewers find them disturbing.

The reason behind the replication of images is to have them inscribed in the minds of the viewers for as long as possible. But the Orange disaster had a major deeper meaning. It was Andy Warhol’s way of voicing his opinions on capital punishment, which he was totally against. The painting had bright contrasting colors along with deeply darkened areas that created the design. Andy Warhol paintings appealed to some audience because of its simplicity and the familiar message it conveyed. The artist believed that art is the modest form of communication, with each message being goal-oriented and may be used to reveal emotions, moods, and feelings.

Andy Warhol - Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, 1963, silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on two canvases, 268.9 x 416.9 cm (8' 9 7/8 x 13' 8 1/8 in)

Andy Warhol – Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, 1963, silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on two canvases, 268.9 x 416.9 cm (8′ 9 7/8 x 13′ 8 1/8 in), photo: moma.org

Green Car Crash, 1963

The use of the automobile in the paintings resulted in the viewers to start questioning the originality and neutrality of Andy Warhol. Green Car Crash indicates the artist’s use of repetitive to drive home a message. He used bright colors to reduce the goriness portrayed.

Andy Warhol - Green Car Crash, 1963 (detail), acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 90 x 80 inches (228.6 x 203.3 cm)

Andy Warhol – Green Car Crash, 1963 (detail), acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 90 x 80 inches (228.6 x 203.3 cm), photo: Rob McKeever, gagosian.com

Suicide (Fallen Body), 1962

In this painting, Andy Warhol incorporates the image of the fallen body of Evelyn McHale to his work to communicate his thoughts on suicide. The original image was a photograph taken by student photographer Robert Wiles just moments after Evelyn has fallen to death on a black limousine, from the 88th floor of Empire state building. He also used the replications of the image to show how community churned celebrities.

Andy Warhol - Suicide (Fallen Body), 1962

Andy Warhol – Suicide (Fallen Body), 1962

Robert C. Wiles - Photo of the 23-year-old Evelyn McHale after she jumped from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947

Robert C. Wiles – Photo of the 23-year-old Evelyn McHale after she jumped from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947

Tuna Fish Disaster, 1963

Tuna Fish Disaster was created by Andy Warhol to depict the darker side of society in America. The painting includes the repetition of an image of two women who died from eating tuna fish, alongside them the tuna cans. This portrayed the idiosyncrasies of American retailers who vowed to protect consumers from harmful products.

The painting shows that disasters like Tuna Fish can happen to any human being at any time. Andy Warhol replicates the image to ensure that it is etched on the memories of viewers for a long time. It also captures the imagination of the viewer and makes them think deeply about the painting.

Andy Warhol – Tunafish Disaster, 1963, from Death and disaster, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 132.1 x 132.1 cm (52 x 52 in)

Andy Warhol – Tunafish Disaster, 1963, from Death and Disaster, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 132.1 x 132.1 cm (52 x 52 in), photo: christies.com

Race Riot, 1963-1964
Andy Warhol - Race Riot, 1963; Pink Race Riot, 1963, installation view, Walker Art Center, 2005

Andy Warhol – Race Riot, 1963; Pink Race Riot, 1963, installation view, Walker Art Center, 2005, photo: Gene Pittman/walkerart.org

Andy Warhol - Race Riot, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, in four parts, overall 152.4 x 167.6 cm (60 x 66 in)

Andy Warhol – Race Riot, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, in four parts, overall 152.4 x 167.6 cm (60 x 66 in), photo: christies.com

All images: Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York unless otherwise noted.

More

More by Andy Warhol

Related readings
  1. https://publicdelivery.org/andy-warhol-marilyn-monroe/
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