30 years ago today we lost major Pop Icon Andy Warhol, which had an affect on the worlds of art, music and culture, partly because it was so unexpected. He died at the age of 58, at 6:32 am on 22 February 1987, in New York Hospital in Manhattan, following what appeared to be a fairly routine gall bladder operation.
Warhol’s demise was also so tragic because his art so rarely dwelt on tragedy. While his later output had mainly engaged with fun, frivolous subjects, such as pop bands, discos and the gilded life of socialite Manhattan.
The near-fatal shooting of Andy Warhol by Valerie Solanas in 1968 profoundly affected the artist. Studio assistants and professional colleagues noted a change in Warhol’s attitude towards work and business. In his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, published the year preceding Skulls in 1975, the artist declared of death: “I don’t believe in it, because you’re not around to know that it’s happened. I can’t say anything about it because I’m not prepared for it”. Skulls represent the spectra of death as the permanent and total absence of life. The anonymous skull stands as symbol and tribute to the nameless grave and the countless lives that have already been lived. Skulls is Warhol’s definitive portrait of death and his admission that mortality is the core vein that runs through his work. Ultimately this work exemplifies Warhol’s Pop vision. It casts death as the final celebrity and thus completes his epic survey of contemporary icons from Liz to Marilyn to Elvis. Warhol once said that “Death can really make you look like a star,” but with Skulls it is death itself that has become the star. Death is the silent participant whose long shadow unites Warhol‘s most important work, and Skulls delivers the artist’s most direct confrontation with this nemesis celebrity as the final portrait.
The news of Warhol’s death moved quickly through the city, and clusters of friends gathered to mourn. Many cried as if they’d lost a father. But as the eulogies came out, a more Warholian feeling began to overshadow this grief.
It was unavoidable, and as the days passed, some of the people who knew him best began to say it: Andy would really have enjoyed this.
For greater insight into Warhol’s art and many others, please visit GallArt.com