Andy Warhol began work on his Flowers series in the summer of 1964, intending it as the focus for his first show with Leo Castelli in the autumn of that year. For this show, he worked on 48 and 24 inch square canvases. The square format allowed Warhol complete freedom with orientation. For the first time, his works had no fixed position, thus allowing the Flowers to be installed in a variety of ways. Another unique aspect to this series is the different techniques and media he explored, which included silkscreen, pencil, hand painted acrylics, and fluorescent Day-Glo paint.
The show at Eykyn Maclean will include examples of each of these sizes and techniques to trace the nuances of development within this important series. For Warhol fans it will also be great to see the only surviving banner (a Flowers painting on red fabric) that Warhol made for the 1965 opening of New York City’s Peace Eye Bookstore.
Unlike Warhol’s work prior to this point – which drew upon images in the mass media as well as commercial brands – Warhol turned to a different source: a spread in a magazine called Modern Photography. The magazine’s June 1964 issue featured a photograph of seven hibiscus flowers taken by executive editor Patricia Caulfield, printed three times in a glossy foldout to show the color variation of different chemical processes. The serial format undoubtedly appealed to Warhol’s sensibility. To create the composition for his paintings, he cropped Caulfield’s photograph into a perfect square, manipulating the flowers so that four of the original seven fit into this new square format. As an interesting art history footnote, Patricia Caulfield sued Warhol when she discovered that he had used one of her photographs. The case was settled out of court and the photographer was offered two sets of Flowers portfolios as payment for use of her work, but she declined the offer and a cash settlement was arranged. (In retrospect possibly somewhat shortsighted on her part as a sale at Christie’s of the artwork Four Foot Flowers from this series in 2007 went for £2.5 mio.) From this time on, Warhol wisely based his art on photographs he took himself.
The idea to paint a series of Flowers was suggested to Warhol by his friend Henry Geldzahler, then assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although paintings of flowers was considered uncool in the world of modernist art at the time, this Flower Period links Warhol to a rarefied canon of artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet who each devoted parts of their careers to the subject. Indeed, the flatly painted colors and scissor-cut contours of Warhol’s Flowers bring to mind Matisse’s late paper collages. According to Ronnie Cutrone, one of Warhol’s assistants and now an artist in his own right, Flowers were about life and death with their black, menacing background. Cutrone, along with other Warhol regulars like Ondine and Lou Reed, were into black leather, vinyl, whips and S&M and shooting up and using Amphetamines. There was nothing flower power about that. So when Warhol made Flowers, it reflected the urban, dark, death side of that whole movement. And as decorative art, it’s very dense and loaded with depth. You have this shadowy dark grass, which is not pretty, and then big, wonderful, brightly colored flowers. A very typical juxtaposition, a sense of unease, which appears in Andy Warhol’s art again and again and which elevates it from the merely decorative.
A hard cover catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition, with a newly commissioned essay by art historian Michael Lobel.
Eykyn Maclean is a private art gallery with locations in New York and London, which is pleased to present a comprehensive survey of Andy Warhol’s Flowers paintings from 1964 and 1965.
Andy Warhol Flowers
November 1st – December 8th
23 East 67th Street
Words by Anna Bang
TagsAndy Warhol, Eykyn Maclean, Flowers, Lou Reed, Ondine, Ronnie Cutrone,