The Warhol '95 Project


Introduction

Premise

One can learn a lot about an artist by studying his works. One can learn more by attempting to carefully copy his works.

Taking this further, if we not only copy works that the artist actually executed, but attempt to copy works that the artist would have executed, given the opportunity, we stand to learn a great deal more. Even if the attempt fails, the effort spent trying to get into the artist's head can be enlightening.

Execution

I'm not an artist myself. Just attempting to copy artistic technique wouldn't teach me much, and would probably be doomed to failure as I don't have enough training to pull it off. I've chosen to pay the most attention to Warhol's choice of subject matter. It's one of the most interesting things to think about when considering Warhol's art -- why did he do this subject?

All of these images were created via computer. All of the actual work was done in the CIS Technology Evaluation Lab, in Pitt's Old Engineering Hall, room B3.

At one point in David Bourdon's book on Warhol, he claims that Warhol did so many silk screens because it was an impersonal medium that would let him get away from his own talent. If this is true, my choice of a computer as the method to re-execute his works makes sense -- although I'm doing it to get away from lack of talent, not talent.

One original image was obtained over the internet, one was obtained by scanning in a trading card, and one was obtained by scanning in a photograph that I took just for this purpose. I made the modifications to the pictures with Adobe's Photoshop image manipulation software on both a Pentium PC and a Power Macintosh.

The final results were output in there different forms -- a print to legal-sized photograph-quality paper via a Tektronix Phaser IIsdx dye-sublimation printer, a print to 35mm slide film via a Matrix Instruments QCR-Z film recorder, and a multimedia hypertext document published via the World Wide Web on the Internet.


O.J. Simpson

[Download JPEG]

Choice of Subject

Warhol couldn't resist doing portraits of famous people. In America in 1995, I don't know if there's anyone else quite as famous as O.J. Simpson, so he seemed a natural and easy place to begin in my efforts to simulate Warhol in '95.

Execution

As a starting point, I took O.J.'s mug shot. I removed all the color, and turned up the contrasts, making the blacks blacker and the whites whiter. This gave me an effect vaguely like a silk screen.

The most important part of the process, apart from choosing the subject matter, was the colorization. I made O.J.'s neck red, because it's a hot color and O.J. is portrayed as somewhat hot under the collar. His face is green, because throughout this whole proceeding he looks kind of ill to me, and also because of the vast amounts of wealth involved in his defense. The area around his eyes is darkened, and his eyes are blue, in order to make him look vaguely depressed.

Finally, scrawled across the bottom, "air brushed" in, is the beginning of his prisoner number from the original mug shot. There wasn't room for the whole thing, but there's enough to get the basic idea.

Summary

The basic idea here was just to practice choosing a subject I'm sure Warhol would have chosen, and practice the computer techniques I'd use to do my "forgeries" of Warhol's style. I'm just getting my toes wet at this point.



Saddam Hussein

[Download JPEG]

Choice of Subject

Next I wanted to pick a subject with a little more meaning. Flipping through a book of Warhol's art, I came across his portraits of Mao Zedong. One of the reasons Warhol chose Mao was that, for many folks, he was an icon of a dangerous foreign government. He predicted that the threat he made western capitalists feel would enhance the appeal of the portrait to western collectors.

Given that, choosing a well-known person who is perceived as representing a dangerous foreign government and is perceived as a threat to western capitalists (at least regarding petroleum) was pretty easy. Saddam Hussein seemed the logical choice.

Execution

I started with a cartoonish picture from a trading card. I scanned it in to a computer, and then removed the color and increased the contrast, as I did with the O.J. portrait. I also put a bit of effort into completely removing the background, which was fairly detailed in this case.

In choosing the colors, I focused on the eyes first. The eyes themselves are burning red. I actually based this part on one of Warhol's portraits of Nixon, in which the subject has glowing yellow eyes to give him a menacing appearance. Then, I had green radiating from his eyes, for contrast and to show envy and greed as he looks to Kuwait. The dark blues of his face were chosen to make him look dark and shadowy. The red beret matches his eyes, and gives an authoritarian appearance. The backgrounds were chosen for the contrasts with the other colors.

The next thing I did was to smear the base of the neck into the background in a jagged fashion. Warhol seems to have blurred color into color in a sloppy, ragged way at the boundaries where two colors meet on more than one occasion, and it seemed appropriate here.

The picture didn't look quite right, so I leafed through the book of Warhol art for more inspiration. It struck as I looked at his copy of Boticelli's Birth of Venus. He took some of the essential lines in the original picture and re-drew them in another, contrasting color. So, I picked a few key lines, and enhanced them with yellow lines, and it seemed to do the trick. I particularly like the three diagonals in the beret.

Summary

The idea here was to chose a more complex subject, in terms of the idea behind it, not in terms of the complexity of the picture. Saddam isn't just another famous face. He is, however, directly analogous to Mao, and so the choice was still somewhat simple. I also added a new technique, copied from Warhol's Boticelli's Venus, to my arsenal. After doing this picture, I felt I was starting to get the hang of the procedure.



Microwave Popcorn

[Download JPEG]

Choice of Subject

This subject may be simple, but it's actually the most complex one of the lot.

In part, it's based on the Campbell's Soup theme. Warhol did many pictures of Campbell's Soup -- a common, cheap, convenient food item that was instantly recognized by just about everyone. The same is basically true of microwave popcorn today.

It's also based partially on his pictures of coke bottles though, and this basis is more subtle. Andy Warhol grew up in Pittsburgh. When one hangs around with Pittsburgh residents long enough, one discovers that they call carbonated beverages "pop". Warhol prided himself on doing "pop art", and I believe he fully meant that as a pun when he did his pictures of coke bottles and other brands of soda. (I got this idea by discussing Warhol's art with someone else who's both a Pittsburgh native and an artist.)

Execution

This one was done with the least conscious thought on my part, and the most instinct and "gut feeling" -- and I'm more pleased with this result than with my previous efforts.

I went and bought a bag of microwave popcorn from a vending machine, and nuked it. Then I wandered all around campus, placing the bag in various different locations and photographing it. I scanned my favorite of these into a computer and got to work.

Unlike the previous works, I didn't remove all the color -- instead, I just changed them all, so they became very wrong. This method was copied directly from a can of soup Warhol painted (Colored Campbell's Soup Can, 1965). It didn't look quite right, so I changed the exposed popcorn back to its original yellow, and left just the bag itself in the strange new colors.

Then I sliced out the background of the picture, and replaced it with strangely colored bands. Finally, I went in with bright yellow and cyan and drew contrasting lines to emphasize certain features on the bag.

Summary

This is my favorite of the three. The choice of subject is the only one with any real subtlety to it -- and that subtlety is a blatant pun. At this point, rather than thinking hard about the techniques used, I had internalized them to the point that I was able to construct the picture by gut feeling and instinct. The result was also the picture that I found most pleasing, visually.



Doug DeJulio
ddj+@pitt.edu