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Pop Art Culture – Andy Warhol’s Mao

Usually, in certain movements, there is one exact person who glorified it most, and often it is not the founder, but such a star, with whom the whole direction is associated. When mentioning pop art, bright paintings and acid colors appear in the imagination. Among them, pieces created by Andy Warhol occupy an honorary place. This artist became an icon of pop art, one of the first to use stencils to make paintings. He was able not just to revive the art but made it massive and accessible to ordinary people. He created many works that attracted attention, although he believed that all his paintings are connected together.

Today, like 70 years ago, pop art is one of the most striking areas of mass art, affecting publicly available artistic images and ideas. It changed the disparate world of classical elitist art and its stable traditions, depicting familiar to everyone objects and images in a new bright multi-colored style, pursuing the shocking task of returning art to an ordinary person. Before this, decorative and exquisite art nouveau symbolism prevailed in art. However, the new economy of abundance has become the ground for nurturing a pop art culture that cultivates mass consumption products.

A large role in the development and promotion of the pop art style was the method of screen printing and silkscreen, which Warhol liked to use. He wanted art to be simple and clear, and that more people could use his approach: “I think it would be so great if more people should take up silkscreens” (Sichel 90). These methods allow mass production and replication of works of art, both in the same and distinct colors. Although this trait was initially typical of Andy Warhol, later, the multiple repetitions of objects made by this method began to be associated with the whole pop art. Works of art printed at huge for this sphere speed were a response to mass consumption.

In this way, Andy Warhol became a man who turned the world of art. He was born in a family of immigrants from Czechoslovakia and showed his creativity from childhood (“Biography of Andy Warhol”). Due to illness, Andy had to be bedridden for a long time. During these periods, he became interested in the celebrities’ lives listening to radio broadcasts about them and also collecting their photos (“Biography of Andy Warhol”). According to the biography presented on The Art Story website, the artist connected these events of childhood with his formation as a creator in pop art (“Biography of Andy Warhol”). His hobbies, life, as well as his desire to change the sphere of art became the basis for creativity.

In adulthood, the artist moved to New York and worked as a commercial illustrator. By creating an advertisement for shoes from I. Miller & Sons, she became a popular and sought-after specialist (“Andy Warhol Biography”). Later, he started his art studio, “The Factory,” where he worked most of the time. Warhol also survived an attack on his life in 1968 (“Andy Warhol Biography”). After that, his works changed; he was engaged in photography and also turned to religious topics, for example, the artist created his own version of the Last Supper.

The artist’s image and the process of creating paintings before the appearance of Andy Warhol and similar creators were romanticized. It was assumed that genuine creative nature should have been lonely intellectuals creating something wholly new and unique. Warhol went the other way – he took familiar to everybody images, like a can of soup, or a well-known personality and changed them. At the same time, changes were visible and understandable to the audience, which, however, did not interfere with the attractiveness of the works and their ability to inspire others.

On the Art Institute Chicago website, I was attracted to the unusual portrait of Mao Zedong made by Andy Warhol. The creation of the Mao series was an exception in his creativity period in the 1970s when he was mainly engaged in photography (“Andy Warhol Biography”). In this way, the artist reacted to a significant political event – a visit of the American president to China (“Andy Warhol’s Mao Portraits”). Despite Warhol’s political neutrality, he still drew attention to some crucial affairs. The portrait’s height is 15 pounds; it has a famous Chinese political leader, but not in his usual appearance (“Mao”). The artist not just added bright paints – on the face, they resemble makeup. Such a clash of the totalitarianism symbol and the attributes of popular culture fascinates the audience.

Andy Warhol used various formal elements of art to create this painting. One can note curved, diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines. Curved lines create the Mao figure itself; their texture is variable – from smooth for face and shirt’s collar and to rough ones on the shoulders. A precise vertical line on the nose and a horizontal cut of the lips add strictness to the appearance, not allowing the audience to forget about the leader’s rigidity. Cross-hatching lines used to create shadows give the image volume. The shape used in the painting is oval and rectangular. The oval of the face is irregular – it is curved to depict Mao’s hair, and ovals are also used for the ear and eyes. The body is represented by a curved rectangle, also this figure on the shirt’s collar. Shadows provide the form of an ellipse to face.

The colors prevailing in the painting are light blue, orange, and gray. This combination of cold, warm, and neutral colors creates a contrast that gives expression to the picture. The piece is bright, which gives light to it. This impression leads to thoughts not about the seriousness of politics, but the mass of propaganda in this area, which reaches the level of pop stars. Using the bright colors typical of makeup on eyelids, lips, and cheeks, Warhol pushes the audience to perceive Mao Zedong not as a political leader, but as a person who people worshiped for his popularity.

Pop Art Culture - Andy Warhol’s Mao

The lines used by Warhol provide a smooth, implied texture. To create the work, the artist used silkscreen ink, acrylic, and pencil on linen (“Mao”). It combines both invented and simulated textures – some elements are more precise, like a button or collar, and others are more simplified – fabric or face skin. The predominance of positive space in the picture raises thoughts about power and strength. The main task of negative space is to create a contrast with Mao’s image to highlight him. Thus, an asymmetric balance is created using color, and its value – a cold light color filling a negative space emphasizes a positive in darker warm and neutral colors.

I was attracted by the contrast in the image of the communist leader and the bright colors that were used to create this portrait. The artist pushes the audience to various ideas and thoughts about politics, the cult of the individual, propaganda, and culture. If a person perceives politics as a pop star, then the main thing for moving in this career path is not wisdom but charisma. It makes people follow and worship a person not for his or her merits and qualities but for what is openly demonstrated to the world. Thus, it can be concluded that society’s consumption is not only related to products or clothing. We also consume information, viewpoints, ideologies, but only those that are most attractively packed. In this case, among all that surrounds us today, it is difficult to find the truth. This is a fantastic property of this piece – with visual simplicity, it raises serious thoughts about human life’s essence.

Thus, the icon of pop art Andy Warhol is an extraordinary personality who changed art and made it more massive. The picture of Mao discussed here connects various periods of his work – early, when he portrayed famous personalities, and later – in search of deep meanings. The picture’s exclusivity is expressed in contrasts – colors and images create an unusual balance and force the audience to create many interpretations. Warhol took the image of the famous personality of Mao Zedong and, using simple steps understandable to everyone, placed him in unusual pop art conditions. This unusual technique attracts attention and challenges people’s usual things, forcing them to question their actions and beliefs. The possibility of such influence speaks of the strength and skill of the artist.

Works Cited

“Andy Warhol Biography. Pop Artist and Cultural Icon.” The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Web.

“Andy Warhol’s Mao Portraits – The Story Behind.” Public Delivery. 2019. Web.

“Biography of Andy Warhol.” The Art Story. Web.

“Mao.” Art Institute Chicago. Web.

Sichel, Jennifer. “‘What is Pop Art?’A Revised Transcript of Gene Swenson’s 1963 Interview with Andy Warhol.” Oxford Art Journal 41.1 (2018): 85-100.

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