Andy Warhol, was an American painter and a well known filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art, after a successful career as a commercial illustrator, “Warhol” became famous worldwide for his work as a painter, Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films. He coined the widely used expression "15 minutes of fame “In his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Andy Warhol museum exists in memory of his life and artwork.
If history is the only factor that distinguishes a cult from a religion, we shall have to wait and see whether the Warhol cult can become a religion, but a parallel to Lawrence’s comment could be constructed from the clichés surrounding the Warhol myth. This might be, ‘history does not interest me, the spiritual or metaphysical does not interest me, art does not interest me, only the thing in itself interests me,’ as if Warhol is to painting as William Carlos Williams is to poetry. Likewise, it could be argued that, in accordance with Proverbs 3:5, all rational attempts at understanding the spiritual are oxymoronic.
In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche saw art as redemption via illusion and representations of death as potentially leading to redemption (Nietzsche 1872). Where the individual exists primarily as a consumer of objects, death is seen as an unnecessary waste, hence the obsession with serial killers, the ultimate taboo breakers. So Warhol’s paintings, particularly those are labeled ‘Disasters’ confront. of the thing. Warhol’s reproductions are knowingly non- reproductions, the non-images in the Marilyn series evoking more than the near reproductions. Far from this being a love of the void and the meaningless, multiplication to the point of inanity, Warhol’s work confronts us with our own assumptions, such as that artists must interrogate or affirm their object. There is also the Lacanian notion, as Foster points out (1996: 136) of the repetition of the repressed as symptom or signifier, but here there is the repetition indicating the real. Of course, there is the connotation that the reification of consumption has surpassed the deification of production, but the Calvinist worship of the work ethic is submerged with the Catholic love of the image. The point is not that Coke tastes the same all over the world and that this is the beauty of American hegemony, but that the product is different everywhere; each one of Warhol’s Coke bottles is unique.
Far from illustrating or celebrating Fordist fears of endless replication or Baudrillard’s concern with the simulacra, a unifying principle and a preconceived notion, a metaphor for sameness as by Baudrillard’s 1993b: 58), the images attack the blurring of difference, something some multiculturalists and many postmodernists naively ignore. It might be concluded that it is not only Warhol and his subjects that become immortal, but as with the cinematic process, here also the spectator of the singular image or multiple image within the singular frame, time and space in relation to matter having simultaneously every and no affinity, mortality and immortality in an Emersonian sense re-enforced. According to the critics like Marcel krenz Warhol’s disaster paintings are the most arresting, but the question still remains as to
- Whether they highlight the impersonality of death with twisted metal and mutilated bodies?
- Whether they evoke the spirituality of its physicality?
This might disingenuously be put down to Warhol’s Catholicism, and here we see the tri-partite nature of Christianity parallels the concept of the three in one Christian God. Catholics are obsessed with the physicality of Christ incarnate, the bloody Crucified Jesus hanging above every sacrificial altar, the Anglicans with the nebulous God the father, and the more recent additions such as the Pentecostals are infatuated with the Spirit. With feet poking out from under a tyre, a man flattened and made stationery by his own means to freedom, this is a statement concerning the impossibility of such a quest, the American obsession with freedom, within a purely physical paradigm. Warhol’s images, particularly those of Elvis with a gun. just after Monroe’s death in August 1962, Warhol only commenced to make his first photo-silkscreen pictures in this year, as well as instigating his Disasters series. These death masks emphasize Marilyn as product but there is a person behind the mask. For this reason those who maintain that Warhol is licensing relativism in every form by obfuscating boundaries between the fake and the real have overdosed on spurious hermeneutics, Warhol’s illustration of Nixon is a true example. In the style of the Marilyn series, but layered with plastic, this image portrays the president as evil. However much Warhol covers the image of Nixon’s head with sheets of scribbled upon plastic, something Bacon would later imitate; Nixon’s. There is simplicity in this that some find offensive, hence both the dismissal and worship of the artist; the artist is the man pointing at the moon, asking the obvious yet mystical question.
Warhol moves on from multiple images of faces in 1962 to the full-figure paintings, which incorporated the important elements scale and overlapping. As Peter Gidal points out, two years after the Marilyn pictures, the triple and double paintings were over-lifesize. The triple Elvis is 82 by 60 inches, the double 81_ by 58_. The paintings created a new awareness of time in painting. With the Elvis and the gun painting, because of the dominance of films and the media, we relive the moment of drawing the gun from the holster. Because of the confusion brought about by the printing technique that makes the exact same stencil look different, the spectator associates automatically with a progressive forward movement in time. This brings the question concerning singular experience to the fore. How idiosyncratic is any experience? Is spirituality concerned with mystical oneness or individual salvation?
Many of Warhol’s images have a lack of imprint which points to dislocation of continuity. Again especially where thirty images end in a white space, the missing imprint imparts a space that defines the canvas and destroys traditional notions of framing, centrality of image, symmetry and illusion as Gidan shows especially. There is a similarity to film, where the retinal lingering of an image seen a split second previously produces automatically an after-image which objectively is not there. This is the core spiritual conjuring of the work. at the sun or even a car crash; thus Warhol’s paintings invoke internal images from the spectator that appear external and confront us with the spectra, the spiritual. Compared to all Warhol’s disastrous painting, the painting that of the ‘Atomic Bomb’ is the most magisterial. What occurs here is less hieromancy, divination by observing objects of sacrifice, but is inclusive of more objectifying evil . Warhol’s combined business sense and naïveté is startling. The much later 1984 work, the malfeasant Rorschach paintings were manufactured without Warhol knowing that there were a limited number of Rorschach paintings with a direct purpose, i.e. each original was supposed to reveal something about the observers’ inner psyche. We do well to remember Bruno Bettelheim’s point that the word psyche, as used by Freud has been mistranslated, it meaning ‘soul’ not ‘mind’. Warhol’s giant Rorschach paintings appear as evil Hindu gods, the shadow side of the soul, the sheer size overpowering the spectator and causing them to question the process of redemption, evoking the need to be saved and the determination to find meaning in mystery.
What is so interesting about Warhol, despite his development as an artist, is his unity of self, both in his image to the world, however manufactured this may be, and in his work. Warhol was dealing with material realities that were the concerns of millions of people in reality and still are; this was not a concern with nothingness, despite his concern with loss. We may step into a Warhol exhibition and marvel not at the aesthetic or spiritual magnitude of the work but more at how much a single artifact is worth. For Lacan et al there is an obsession with nothingness, which with presence, is core to metaphysics. For Cupitt, only when we stare nothingness in the face can we accept the reality of evil. The claim that evil is reality may be correct given the unregenerate nature of the earth but evil by definition is a transgression from God. He thus negates God from reality but then states that to transcend evil would be unwise; we must become fixated with the image and stop desiring something beyond it for the medium is the message. Yet, as has been discussed, the image always points to something other, be that death or the ghost, the spiritual, or in the case of Warhol, the very object he is referring to.