Along with his paintings of celebrities, Campbellʼs soup cans, Coca Cola bottles and currency symbols, some of Pop artist Andy Warholʼs most celebrated work features images of flowers. Warhol made his first Flowers paintings in 1965, after completing his Death and Destruction series. In this context, the flowers are frequently seen as response to the Death and Destruction series. Although Warhol intended his flowers to represent life, he was also aware that flowers traditionally often functioned as metaphors for the transience of life, particularly when shown in the context of memento moris and vanitas. By choosing to depict flowers in full bloom, Warhol referenced this history, knowing that even at the peak of their beauty, flowers have begun to wither and die. In this way, Flowers, like his portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, represents Warholʼs engagement with traditional genres of art history—the landscape, the vanitas, the portrait—yet rendered in a resolutely contemporary manner. The earliest versions of the flower paintings were an immediate commercial success and sold out in their first appearance at Leo Castelli's gallery in 1964. Unlike other series from that period, the flowers did not have an obvious connection to Warholʼs childhood or past. (1)
In both the early flower paintings and Untitled (Flower for Tacoma Dome) the subject is a familiar one in the history of art. However, by removing the flower from its natural environment and depicting it without leaves, grass or even a vase or tabletop, the image exists outside of landscape or still life genres. In addition, the artist intentionally pared down the forms, reducing the flowers to broad petals and detailed stamen, while eliminating stems, leaves and surroundings. The outline recalls techniques Warhol likely used during his time as a graphic designer and illustrator, and these lines underscore the flat quality of the painting. The colors suggest natural flowers but are brighter, larger than life, and reminiscent of a neon sign.
The flower depicted in Untitled (Flower for Tacoma Dome) was drawn from a painting created as a commission proposed for the Tacoma Dome, the sports and convention center in Tacoma, WA. Subsequent prints are based on this design, a hybrid flower Warhol created. His Daisy paintings were also inspired by the Tacoma commission. The piece was produced using Warholʼs signature silkscreen process, which allowed him to repeat images—single images repeated in multiple pieces, like Flowers; or repetition within a single piece, like Marilyn Diptych. These repeated images, occurring regularly over several decades of work, reveal Warholʼs obsessive iconographic consistency. (2)
(1) Watson, Steven. Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003), 152.
(2) Koestenbaum, Wayne. Andy Warhol (New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2001), 11.