Warhol's Oxidation Paintings, 1977-78
After Andy Warhol: Piss & Sex Paintings and Drawings, Gagosian Gallery, 2002
In December 1977 Andy Warhol began to make a series of elegant, abstract paintings. These iridescent canvases, made up of coppery yellows, oranges and verdant green strokes, pools and drips, offered Warhol's viewer a sensuous and very physical enjoyment of paint, quite at odds with the crisper images one found in his Pop vocabulary. Surprisingly, the only paint used by the artist in this very 'painterly1 body of work was that employed for the metallic gold ground. The blooms of color that effloresce over the pictorial space were created in quite a unique manner. As Bob Colacello notes, "Andy paid Victor [Hugo] to be the 'collaborator' ... He would come to the Factory to urinate on canvases that had already been primed with copper-based paint by Andy" The uric acid would oxidize the metal in the copper ground, causing it to discolor, allowing for patterns to be created according to the 'movement' of the 'painter'. Later, Ronnie Cutrone, one of Warhol's Factory assistants was asked to 'assist', much to the delight of the artist. According to Warhol, Cutrone took a lot of Vitamin B, which caused the copper pigment to oxidize a particularly 'pretty color' As Bruce Hainley notes. "Like .. blood . urine is rich in DNA The Oxidations ... are portraits of Victor . They're also self-portraits and portraits of . assistant Ronnie Cutrone. Doggedly marked territories, they trace signs of identity, even if that identity is unknown (or unknowable)". (Bruce Hainley, "Urine Sample" in Exh. Cat., New York. Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Piss & Sex Paintings and Drawings. September - November 2002, pp. 7-8)
Andy Warhol, Oxidation Painting, copper metallic paint and urine on canvas,
12 panels, 48 x 49 in.
Warhol, yet again reveals a determined experimentation with process. The abstract patterns, in themselves, are beautiful orchestrations that delight the eye Their making, however, elevates the work beyond the confines of abstract painting. Warhol's inspiration for this series of paintings is a hotly debated subject. He would certainly have known about Piero Manzoni's infamous Merda d'Artista (1961), where the artist offered 30 grams of his own excrement for the same price as 30 grams of gold. The famous Italian film director, Pasolini, may also have inspired him. Pasolini's film, Teorema (1968) told the story of a man, played by Terence Stamp, who visited a bourgeois family and seduced each member The seductions produced radical changes: the son, who had previously looked at Francis Bacon paintings with Stamp, becomes an artist. In his search for the ultimate methodology, he urinates on a canvas. Colacello suggests that the artist was inspired by activities in sex clubs and gay bath houses. Any connection of Warhol's artistic process with contemporary sado-masochistic subcultures, particularly as documented by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, does not have much explanatory force. What is perhaps more interesting is the connection between Warhol's Oxidation paintings and the art of Jackson Pollock.
In terms of style and, to a degree, in terms of technique, Warhol's Oxidation Paintings, may be likened to Jackson Pollock's Drip Paintings Both share an omni-directional quality in terms of the network of marks they make and a totality of composition Both artists physically entered the confines of the pictorial space in order to achieve their lyrical abstractions. Pollock's Drip Paintings and Warhol's Oxidation series both see a return to pre-civilization, a primordial energy is created by both artists, in terms of the visual content of their abstractions and in the way these abstractions were formulated. Warhol's conscious parodying of Pollock's technique can be seen to link (homo)sexual potency with artistic potency, Warhol asked Hugo and Cutrone to urinate on his canvas this homoerotic act served to prove their Value' to him from an artistic perspective, and they were asked to do it in the manner of Pollock's style - an artist who was firmly heterosexual and, from the perspective of the post-war canon, the chief protagonist of the heterodox being the darling of the Abstract Expressionist movement, interestingly, a famous episode in Pollock's life saw him urinate in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace at one of her parties, frustrated by the cropping of his mural to fit her wall. Perhaps Warhol was referring specifically to this irreverent moment by Pollock in these works. If Warhol was thinking of other artists when conceptualizing and actually making these paintings he surely would have considered Marcel Duchamp, and his Fountain m particular. One of the most important objects of the Twentieth Century, Fountain is the site of mate urination and serves to blur the distinctions of art and non-art, public and private behavior; dichotomies that inform the processes and status of the present work.
For all the conjecture surrounding why Warhol made these somewhat perverse works, one is left, in the final analysis, with objects of extraordinary beauty. The present example is one of the largest Warhol ever 'made', possessing the same qualities one finds in Oriental screens. Indeed, a Zen-like serenity pervades the surface, quite at odds, one can imagine, with their creation One can see the paintings as ethereal landscapes, or portraits of micro-organisms, wildly amplified Whichever way one looks at them, the Oxidation Paintings remain Warhol's most economic works and some of his most elegant compositions.