Pablo - Portrait
I wanted this one to have a kind of Che Guavara vibe, echoing the cult of personality of that image that ends up on t-shirts and restaurant signs : ‘ the degree to which fame consumes creativity by repeating one and the same image to a point of banality’- making the person behind the image meaningless and virtually indistinguishable, a bit like the proliferation of Mao canvases that Warhol produced.
Andy Warhol and Chairman Mao
If Warhol can be regarded as an artist of strategy, his choice of Mao as a subject - as the ultimate star - was brilliant. The image of Mao taken from the portrait photograph reproduced in the Chairman's so-called Little Red Book, is probably the one recognised by more of the earth's population than any other - a ready-made icon representing absolute political and cultural power. In Warhol's hands, this image could be considered ominously and universally threatening, or a parody or both.
Andy Warhol’s dedication to all famous things in the world and his fascination of reproduction made Chairman Mao’s ubiquitous presence a mesmerizing figure of his art. His portraits of Mao are undeniably among the most influential and enduring of all his images. It was not until President Nixon’s announcement of his impending visit to China in July 1971 that Andy Warhol began to imagine painting Chairman Mao. He even made the stony observation that "Since fashion is art now and Chinese is in fashion, I could make a lot of money… Mao would be really nutty not to believe in it, it'd just be fashion but the same portrait you can buy in the poster store.” A year later, he produced a series of Mao portraits that today has become an icon to be found in many of the most prestigious art institutions and private collections across the globe.
Bob Colacello, who worked alongside Warhol for 12 years at Interview magazine in the 1970s and early 1980s, later remarked how Chairman Mao was to become the subject of the artist’s important group of works: “It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting… Bruno’s idea was that Andy should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century,” that he should not just 'go back to painting' but begin a whole new body of work, distinct from portraiture with an ambitious theme. Originally, Bischofberger suggested Albert Einstein because of his acclaimed Theory of Relativity, however for Warhol, fame was more important than ideas; appearance more important than importance itself. “That’s a good idea”, he replied, “but I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?”
More than an individual, it was the mechanism of fame itself that fascinated Warhol, the degree to which fame consumes creativity by repeating one and the same image to a point of banality. After Nixon’s trip in 1972 which would lead to full diplomatic relations with China, Warhol undertook a group of portraits of Chairman Mao. Between 1972 and 1973, he created 199 Mao paintings in 5 set scales across 5 individual series.