Andy Warhol, arguably the most famous pop artist of the twentieth century, passed away in his sleep from sudden post-operative arrhythmia after gallbladder surgery in February 1987. Not the ending to a life as colourful as Warhol’s that you might envision.
However, there were always two sides to Warhol’s life, one more glamorous than the other. Although undoubtedly defined by his art, it was also characterised by loneliness. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928 to parents originally from an area of Europe that is now Slovakia, English was his second language, and he spoke it with a heavy accent. This marked him as coming from among the lowest of the city’s immigrant working classes. He was a painfully shy child and although he was never actively bullied at school, he would always struggle socially.
He once famously said “I come from nowhere” referring to life in an immigrant family as well as to the myth of self-creation. The 1960s saw his reinvention into the pop artist that established him as a household name, but his awkwardness and solitude persisted into later life: renowned for the parties hosted in his work space known as the Silver Factory, he would stay in the corner, painting or working, on the edge of things but never fully involved. Always alone in a crowd, pop art was a medium that allowed Warhol’s art and loneliness to align. In her book The Lonely City, Olivia Laing says, “Sameness, especially for the immigrant, the shy boy agonisingly aware of his failures to fit in, is a profoundly desirable state.” This is at least in part where the origins of the cans of Campbell Soup and the many multi-coloured faces of Marilyn Monroe can be traced to. Laing points out that Warhol painted “objects whose value derives not because they’re rare or individual but because they are reliably the same.”
Art and technology were liberating for Warhol. He’d always struggled with language and talking but, inspired by a perverse fondness for speech errors, he frequently used a tape recorder, making over 4,000 audiotapes throughout his career. These included an audiobook comprised solely of recorded speech of those around him. In the words of the critic John Richardson: “He made a virtue of his vulnerability, and forestalled or neutralised any possible taunts. Nobody could ever ‘send him up’. He had already done so himself.”
– Emily Garbutt, Online Arts + Lit editor
1987 was monumental for the art world with the famous Saatchi Gallery, holding the exquisite exhibition of New York Art Now within that year. The exhibition featured artists such as Philip Taaffe, Jeff Koons, Carroll Dunham and Robert Gober. John Russell, for The New York Times in 1998, regarded the exhibition as a “mysterious space”, introducing these artists for the first time within the UK, differing from the Saatchi’s usual worldwide known activity – until now, it had “never taken a flyer on artists who were generally unrecognised.”
The collection of artists blended minimalism, historical motifs, anti-art, and Neo-Pop. The ‘Neo-group’ which most of these artists belonged to, had not yet won itself any solid acceptance in the UK, and was being ‘floated’ around waiting for curators to pick the movement up within exhibitions. Despite Russell’s dubious nature of the artwork within the collection, he notes the powerful space of Saatchi as “the ideal conditions [for the exhibition] where we do not question the commitment”.
Phillip Taaffe is a contemporary American artist, known for his sampling methods of collage, relief printing and silk-screening. Taaffe’s work within the exhibition featured his densely-patterned works, meshing together art-historical motifs, personal experience, with complex layers of colour and depth. Taaffe founded his work on the belief that art should embody a bricolage of visual ideas, a synthesis of layering, adding patterns, building colour and borrowing from the historical vocabulary of art.
Moving away from Taaffe’s work, NY Art Now featured Jeff Koons, an American artist, working with popular culture subjects, and re-imagining everyday objects such as balloons, transforming them into marvellous blown up animals produced in a staggering scale of stainless steel with coloured mirror finish surfaces. Iconic and subversive, Koons admired Synthetic Cubism. Koons may be described as an ‘anti-artist’, reminiscent of the 1920’s Dadaist movement of Marcel Duchamp, whilst also embodying the 1980’s movement of Neo Pop. Whilst relatively unknown in Britain at the time of the NY Art Now Exhibition, his works have since sold for incredible sums: on 12 November, 2013, Koons’ Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at auction for $58.4 million, becoming the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction. NY Art Now propelled the blurring of high art with popular culture, and the transgressive methods of bricolage technique. John Russell had no need to be dubious about these ‘flyer artists’ but thankfully we are now assured of their cultural potency.
– Molly Gilroy, Online Screen editor
Richard Deacon, winner of The Turner Prize 1987, is a British sculptor, using abstractions to portray the human experience. In an interview with the TATE, Deacon states: “I don’t carve, I don’t model, I fabricate”. Therefore, sculpting is more than carving a bit of wood to look like a tree; it is blurring the lines between the real and the constructed. His wood and mixture of metals become one interconnecting, intersecting life-form, jumbling movement in a fusion of materials. His vastness of vocabulary through materials – such as using plywood and vinyl in Boys and Girls (1982; London, British Council) – creates a deeply metaphorical and individual idiom.
After being nominated for the Turner Prize in 1984, his 1987 win was arguably unevenly matched. Changed from being a ‘lifetime achievement’ award to ‘outstanding contribution to British art’ lessened the ego somewhat. Expected to win in 1987 was the well-known and established Richard Long, making Deacon’s win a surprise. The shortlist also included two female artists, Helen Chadwick and Thérèse Oulton, which was the first time any females had been nominated. However, this was seen as a politically correct response to rising liberal attitudes on gender. Despite the slight controversy, Deacon presented cleverly abstracted work worthy, subjectively, of such a prize.
Deacon’s early work was very interested with sculpture representing anatomy. For Those Who Have Ears #2 (1983), resembles that of a hilly landscape whilst abstractedly representing the functions of eyes, ears, and mouth and how they perceive the world. The title draws from the Biblical phrase: “He that hath ears to hear let him hear”, accentuating Deacon’s interest in both the physical sensations of perceiving and the view of the world itself. For Those Who Have Ears #2 epitomises his early work, with lots of use of smooth lines, resembling the British countryside, with the resin and rings of the wood imitating wood that was alive. Deacon consequently smears construction with life. The wood itself isn’t dead, yet it is. It is the memory of what was once alive before it became a new form of art—wood that is manipulated, contorted, and reborn.
– Chloe Kennedy