Portraits of an artist

Andy Warhol's self portrait exhibition at the Graves Art Gallery Anthony d'Offay and Amy Dickson,.Managing Curator, Artists Rooms with one of the exhibits
Andy Warhol's self portrait exhibition at the Graves Art Gallery Anthony d'Offay and Amy Dickson,.Managing Curator, Artists Rooms with one of the exhibits

WORK by one of the most influential figures in contemporary art and culture is now on show at the Graves Gallery.

Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits represent a series of iconic images by the man who remains a household name 25 years after his death.

Often focusing on celebrity, the work he created through the Sixties to the Eighties established his fame to equal that of the star subjects he frequently depicted.

The exhibition at the Graves is part of The Artist Rooms, the collection donated to the nation by the Sheffield-born renowned art dealer Anthony d’Offay.

“The idea of the self-portraits was very important to Anthony d’Offay,” said Museums Sheffield  Exhibition Programmer Alison Morton. “Warhol was not as well-known for the self-portraits as the celebrity portraits and Anthony had long had the idea of showing them to a wider audience but it was only in 1986 that it came to be. He encouraged Andy Warhol not only to display existing images but to undertake new ones as well.

“It produced a whole new body of work at a time when Warhol had fallen out of favour with the art world. And if he wanted a show to demonstrate what a brilliant artist he still was, this was it. It was the last exhibition he had before he died in 1987.”

This is the artist who once said: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind me.”

“Anthony is very emotionally attached to the self-portraits,” continued the curator, and the centerpiece of the exhibition, Fright Wig, was commissioned by him, although it is the one piece not from his collection but on loan from the Tate.

The Fright Wig series, like so much of Warhol’s work, was produced with an eye on its commercial potential but others were given to friends such as his Strangulation series.

“They have a sense of him being introspective and thinking about his own mortality,” suggests Morton. They could be viewed in the context of his near death experience in 1968 when he was shot and never fully recovered. It is significant there are no self-portraits for a period of ten years afterwards.

“Although he had come a long way from his pop art roots there are many traits of that in the work such as the use of photographs, the multi-images, the colours, but there’s a different vibe about them. You won’t see things you might expect from Warhol.”

Also on view are 14 Polaroid pictures, which reveal many clues to the process of the major works, along with posters, photographs and one drawing. Also included is his Skull series which is not strictly a self-portrait in being someone else’s head but was completed at the same time as the other work and could be interpreted as his final view of himself.

Running alongside the exhibition of self-portraits is an installation, The Search for Andy Warhol’s Voice, a collection of audio recordings accumulated by art historian Jean Wainwright of the artist’s family and friends reflection of his childhood, relationships and approach to his work.

Among the 12 people visitors can hear via headphones hooked up to retro Eighties tape recorders are Andy Warhol’s brother and niece and artist and critic Gavin Turk.

“This is a contextural installation,” said Alison Morton. “The self-portraits are all about role-playing. He once said: ‘I never like to give my background away. I make it up different every time. I prefer to remain a mystery.’ This part of the exhibition gives visitors a round view of the artist.”

l Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits continues at the Graves Gallery until December 1.