Color Field Abstraction And Warhols Rorschach Paintings Art Essay


One of the most important and controversial Pop art icons in America and a major influence to artists around the world, known as "The Prince of Pop", Andy Warhol brings an entirely new perspective to the art world. An initiator and leading exponent of the Pop art movement of the 1960s, Warhol achieved success as a commercial artist during the 1950s and steadily grew from their producing works from famous portraits to popular culture, shoes and advertising images ( Born Andrew Warhola in 1928, Warhol lived and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during very hard times. Andy had contracted a rare disease at the age of 8 called chorea or St. Vitus dance, an illness of the nervous system that could have possibly proven fatal. He would later recover from the illness, but would gain a skin illness that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Son of a Slovakian immigrant, Warhol's father was a construction worker who died in accident when Andy was only 13 years old (

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During the years following his father's death his siblings and classmates started to notice an early talent in drawing and painting. After high school Warhol decided he would study commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh and in 1949 graduated with a major in Pictorial Design ( After graduating he decided to move to New York where he found temporary jobs as an illustrator for magazines and for commercial advertising. From then on his career as an artist excelled and he became one of New York's most sought after and successful artists. He held his first one-man show exhibition in 1952 at the Hugo Gallery in New York and soon after became a famous figure in the New York art scene.

Starting in 1978, following his sixteen year reign as the "Prince of Pop", Warhol made an unexpected decision and decided to try his hand at abstract painting. Abstract Expressionism would be defined as artists who applied paint rapidly with force onto their huge canvases in an effort to show feelings and emotions, the works would release the creativity of the unconscious mind ( The style of the late 1940's and early 1950's was predominantly American and was characterized by its rendering of expressive content by abstract or non-objective means (Sayre 516). Andy Warhol's "Rorschach",1984 paintings are one of the most intriguing and captivating works of the early 1980's, they display his abstract work in the best Warholian style and cause the viewer to create an image out of their own imagination ( Richard 88-90).

The immense "Rorschach" paintings are massive in scale and required a crew to produce them, a staggering 20x10 and were achieved by pouring paint onto one side of the canvas, then folding the canvas down the middle and pressing the two sides together. In all their emptiness and derangement the "Rorschach" paintings are psychologically and emotionally charged. Warhol had created the series specifically so that the paintings could be analyzed. The ink blot appearance was first produced by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss Freudian psychiatrist who developed them as a test, which in fact would elicit disclosure of a person's innermost feelings ( It was mainly used on people suffering psychological instability or disorder and even diagnosed mental patients. Always on the prowl for inspiration Warhol used these ink blots in his own works creating the "Rorschach" series. Warhol was especially interested in mass production, his claim to fame was caused by the use of his rare creativity in the visual arts that would be used in mass produced commercial items. Often considered a cousin of avant-garde art, Andy's commercial art such as the soapbox covers, soup cans, plastic packing would create and turn the industry into a respectable bona fide art form. The "Rorschach" series would be an outcome of his earlier work and would also be mass produced. The works are seemingly complex, replete with irony and ornament, history and psychology, intuition and a lot of misunderstanding. Although Warhol showed deliberate ignorance toward the standardized blots of the official Rorschach test, he was obviously intrigued by their serial repetitiveness and formulaic impersonality. With an estimated 38 paintings total in the "Rorschach" series the immense canvases where not at all produced only with the dark black paint that many remember it for. Warhol experimented with a variety of colors, thus he came to be known for using color field abstraction. Color field paintings, a type of abstract expressionism, were used by artists who were interested in the lyrical or unique atmospheric effects of vast expanses of color, causing the viewer to be immersed in a color environment (

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Many of the famous paintings were bright red, gold and pink; he even created a beautiful mixture of the colors, mixing purple, red and violet, and in another blue, purple and pink in an amazing array to create something extraordinary and abstract. Lusciously colorful or dull black, the works were appealing to a wide range of audiences and would catch the viewer's eye immediately upon entering any gallery.

Warhol used one major technique in creating his infamous works, an unpopular and rarely used pour and fold technique to conjure up the fleshy physicality of kidneys or lungs ( particularly unique feature of the prints was that it contained no human touch, the paint was merely allowed to space and settle where ever on the canvas it pleased without any human interference or brushwork, this also would explain the variety of unique prints in the "Rorschach" series. The symmetrical networks of mainly thick Liquitex Acrylic paint distributed on silk screens created syrupy veins of paint that were easily identifiable and caused a unique distorted image each time. One arguable aspect of his work would also be that he never signed his work; out of all 38 paintings not one would contain his signature. One could say that Warhol was particularly fond of genital imagery, but others would argue that the "Rorschach" paintings not only represent Warhol's demented mind, but contained images of the devil and even death itself. Horrific atrocities from the gates of hell to a giant taunting mask, not all feedback was negative though, many saw completely opposite and positive imagery in the works, from royalty to giant vases, but no matter what the viewer's imagination brought about, each canvas created a feeling that the work would engulf the spectator at any time (McShine 382-383). Warhol was said to have included iconography in his famous works such as the "Rorschach" series, some images might have been developed to represent something to him personally and to others something entirely different. Iconography would be defined as a pictorial representation of a subject, or the collection of images, or icons illustrating a subject ( He would mainly use it in his earlier works, self portraits of himself with skulls on his head as to depict his own death or murder.

Warhol's style of work in the "Rorschach" series was distinctly different from other great players of Pop Art during the era. Working on the subjects he loved and having a strict routine he would turn items of daily use into simplified yet intricate pieces of art. Warhol had worked on this series for a year, which gave him time and a chance to determine the end results. Most of his collection was never shown until after his death. Soon after the completion and major success of the "Rorschach" paintings, Warhol steadily moved on from his prized series and went on his final adventure in abstraction in 1986 (

Warhol would play around with camouflage and stretch out the work on canvases as large as thirty feet. He was so fascinated with the endless possibilities and variations of camouflage iconography that he would eventually add it as an incongruous overlay to some of his other series. He then left his so fond abstraction series to continue on with his career with his already popular self portraits and later on "The Last Supper" series (

From the day he left the calm environment of his normal work place and entered the very chaotic place of "The Factory" in 1962, he would mass produce silk screen prints and challenge the difference between high and low art to show the world that art can be found in everyday objects. Warhol would keep pushing the limits of art towards new boundaries that would drastically change the art we see around us today. Andy Warhol had made a permanent mark in the art world and had become a world renowned Pop Art icon. In 1987, the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established in his honor and in May 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum opened in his home town Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ( Being a controversial homosexual man that he was with a bizarre personality, he was obsessed by the ambition of getting rich and famous and he knew exactly how he would achieve this from the very first day he stepped into the art world.

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