Andy Warhol, Colored Liz
Title: Colored Liz
Markings: stamped with the artist's signature
Andy Warhol's Colored Liz is a classic example of the artist's movie star portraits. This portrait is one of thirteen known Colored Liz paintings made by Warhol in 1963. They are often referred to as Early Colored Liz paintings in order to differentiate them from the later 1965 Silver Liz portraits. Warhol's imagery was sourced from a "found" image, in this case a publicity still of Elizabeth Taylor, which was converted into a photo-silkscreen. This mechanical process allowed Warhol to screen multiple cinematic images within a single canvas, but in 1963, Warhol produced a masterful group of square single-image portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. Warhol's ultimate subject was the glamorous facade of celebrity, never more effectively rendered than in Colored Liz. Elizabeth Taylor first appeared in Warhol's work in one of his early hand-painted canvases of tabloid headlines. Inspired by the headline "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down" on March 29, 1962, Daily News (1962) portrays the front and back pages as they luridly covered the break-up of the Fisher/Taylor marriage during the filming of Cleopatra and Liz's well-publicized affair with Richard Burton. Like A Boy for Meg (1962), this painting epitomizes Warhol's fascination with the pervasiveness and surface titillation of the popular media. Just as the tabloids covered both celebrity gossip and news disasters, Warhol touched both extremes in his oeuvre but he went further by subtly combining them. The bleak Death and Disasterpaintings and 129 Die in Jet! (1962), which show Warhol's appreciation for the voyeuristic quality of dark events, seem in stark contrast to the glamorous single image portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor. Yet Warhol has chosen his beautiful icons carefully. All three were unmistakable emblems of glamour, sex appeal, and international fame, and all three were portrayed in the movie-still format popularized in fan magazines and studio publicity shots. These frontal, smiling images were assumed to be the archetypes of the dream woman, desired by men and aspired to by women. In contrast to the fictitious blonde of comics and ads that Lichtenstein used as his female archetype, Warhol specifically portrayed real women of such fame that the public felt they knew them. The great irony of Warhol's art is the subtext of his icons, for each of his ideal women was touched by death and tragedy at a young age. Formalistically, Jackie, Liz and Marilyn are literally "head shots". Warhol had developed his silkscreen process in the early 1960s, and the screening of the ink image replicates the sense of a cinematic image, in particular when he screened multiple images on his canvas. The 40-inch square, single image portraits of movie stars are more intensively "portraits" with a concentrated focus on the face as if a film were frozen on a single image. In the present Colored Liz, the turquoise background compresses the frontal pose toward the picture plane, lending an intimacy between sitter and viewer. However, the attention to the make-up on the lips and eyes reminds us that our familiarity with the celebrity is all surface recognition, not a perception of the individual inner personality. Boldly colored red lips, pink flesh, and turquoise brows are the manmade image of the film persona, depicting the glittering superficiality of a public facade that can mask hidden realities. Warhol's first images of Marilyn -his most enduring icon - date from the actress' suicide in August 1963, and Warhol's portraits have enhanced her public mythology as a misunderstood, insecure, and lonely woman despite her fame as a sex goddess. Jacqueline Kennedy was the main character in the 1960s most public tragedy, her youth and beauty in poignant contrast to the terror of her husband's assassination. In an interview with G.R. Swenson, Warhol conceded to an amount of morbidity in his work. "I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death", and even the Elizabeth Taylor portraits had been started "when she was so sick and everybody said she was going to die." ("Andy Warhol", Art News, November 1963, p. 26) The telling detail of Colored Liz may therefore be the imperfections of the screening process - the lacey irregularities in her otherwise carefully coifed hair and the overextended color of her full red lips and painted eyelids - rather than the recognizable features of a star.
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