Skip Repetitive Navigation Links

NOTICE: You have reached a deprecated website. 
You can access the new official Rhode Island College website at https://www.ric.edu.

Student Essay

View or download essay

Thomas Crudale

Art 450: Warhol Seminar

Manufacturing Nature: Consumption and Monotony in Andy Warhol’s Flowers

Andy Warhol’s style of art-making is a large deviation from what the abstract expressionists before him considered honorable. The abstract expressionists portray messages of uniqueness, unpredictability and self-expression, while Warhol’s work typically carries motifs of monotony and lack of individuality in American society. Through the subject matter of Flowers (figure 1), the sheer mass of the series, and the process used to make the prints, this precise theme can be examined.

Flowers was an on-going series for Warhol throughout his entire career. The series contains roughly 900 prints, rendering it not only the longest lasting but also the largest series he ever worked on. While the prints that resulted from the series range in size, the majority measure 40” by 40”, including the screen print in the Rhode Island College collection. The images feature four hibiscus flowers that are typically painted in a variety of colors. The flowers fill most of the picture plane, but what appears to be grass or a kind of organic background can be seen behind them. The Flowers print that is in the RIC collection is no exception to these parameters. If not for the title and the small detail in the center of each flower depicted, viewers may have difficulty identifying the flowers as such, due to their lack of naturalistic coloring and their lack of linear definition of the individual petals. In this particular silkscreen, two of the flowers are colored in orange, with the remaining two in yellow and purple. The edges of the two orange flowers are just barely touching, creating a slight visual tension between the flowers. In addition, the three most similarly toned flowers, the two orange and one yellow, are closer in the image, while the fourth purple flower resides on its own, away from the rest.

The Flowers series is still considered one of Warhol’s more recognizable bodies of work. The volume of work and the variety of color throughout the series makes for a memorable visual experience. While typically printed to forty by forty inches, some prints measure up to six feet. Regardless of the size, Warhol’s flower imagery offers the viewer the opportunity to examine the natural world in contrast to that of the man-made, and how volume, repetition and monotony all play in role in both.

Warhol’s use of the silkscreen method allowed him to easily manufacture an impressive number of images in an efficient manner. The machine-like technique used to produce the imagery stands in a stark contrast to the natural subject matter. The source image for the Flowers series came directly from a photo in the magazine “Modern Photography” (figure 2), for which the photographer, Patricia Caulfield then sued Warhol for using her image without permission.

Screen printing being a staple of Warhol’s work, this technique is used again and again in many of Warhol’s series. Scholars have drawn a connection between Warhol’s style of mass production of art with popular imagery, both appalling and appealing, in the media that is widely circulated. When examining Warhol’s Marilyn series (figure 3), Cécile Whiting describes Warhol’s imitation of the popular press in circulating Monroe’s portrait for the public’s consumption by exaggerating her features and reproducing the image or variations of the image.1 Similarly, Flowers is a direct example of this critique on mass produced images that Warhol makes with his art. By revisiting the project throughout the duration of his career, the artist makes honorable strides to promote the idea of repetition in the popular press.

The subject matter of flora is one that can be found repeated in every era of historical still life paintings. One example of this would be Dutch artist Hans Gillisz. Bollongier’s Flower

Paintings (figure 4), created throughout the 1640s during Holland’s tulip mania era. Like so many other works made during this time, Bollongier’s painting emphasizes the ornate and unique patterns of the carefully cultivated tulips, deeply examining the ways in which each flower is different. Historians also argue that Bollongier’s work examines the fleeting nature of the prized flowers, emphasizing the frivolity of human nature. Warhol’s presentation of the four flowers in his work does not resemble anything like the flower still lives of his artistic predecessors.

Instead, Warhol’s Flowers pushes the subject matter to the point where it can hardly be considered natural at all. In “Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine” (1967), Paul Bergin states that Warhol’s flower prints represent the “…twentieth-century machine in different terms”, and goes on to claim that the flowers Warhol depicted are “…flowers of the city rather than of the field”, due to their flatness and plasticity.2 In the print at RIC, Warhol uses a bright orange for two of the flowers that does not provide even a close resemblance to what a hibiscus actually appears as, and the additional flowers in the print (painted a vibrant yellow and light purple) are even a further diversion from the true flower.

Furthermore, the medium in which Warhol cultivates his Flowers is through a process with many machine-like qualities, making them remarkably unnatural. Warhol uses both his work with Flowers and his Death series (figure 5) to critique the ways in which American popular media bombards their audiences with imagery to such an extent that it becomes distorted and skewed. In doing so, people become desensitized to the imagery, making something that is meant to be appalling commonplace. With Flowers, Warhol’s excessive repetition of the print with slight changes in the colors of each describes the altering of the public’s perception of an image with each new publication until the perceived meaning is finally almost unrecognizable from the original, such as the flowers can barely be considered as such in Warhol’s work.

From all of the prints that come from the Flowers series, the main subject remains the same throughout all of the pieces. Size and color over time, yet the four hibiscus flowers are consistently composed throughout the entirety of the series. Warhol himself lived a highly repetitive lifestyle. In a 1963 interview by Gene Swenson with Warhol, the artist stated “I want everybody to think alike…Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine”3. Warhol was infamous for living a lifestyle as a personification of his artwork. In addition, the very act of screen-printing hundreds of images to create the Flowers series relates to the drastic monotony of everyday life that the work speaks to.

Warhol was an incredibly private and closed off person, rarely sharing any personal information those even those closest to him, let alone the rest of the world. The artist denied the existence of a more private side of his life behind the machine-like personality that he presented himself as4. Furthermore, Warhol tried to distance himself from his work, arguing he never had any real intentions or reason for making the art he did, and that he simply “liked” it5, or someone told him he should make what he did. These comments are largely negated, due to the artist’s tendency to live his life in a way that further promoted his art, and a large portion of his art reflects the monotony and repetitiveness of mass produced imagery. With this in mind, one has to think as Warhol would: someone acting as a fabrication of a machine.

While Warhol never publicly confirmed or denied his sexual preference, although those who worked with Warhol closely and that frequented the Factory have made it clear that the artist was part of the LGBTQ+ community6. Art work produced by the artist further points to this conclusion, including his intimate line drawings of young men in the 1950’s (figure 6), his Polaroid self-portraits dressed in drag (figure 7), and his portraits of his close friend and possible partner, Jon Gould (figure 8). Warhol lived and worked during a period in American history when the general attitude towards those who did not subscribe to heterosexuality were not widely accepted and respected outside of their circles. Through Warhol’s use of the machine-like

screen-printing process to create Flowers, his true feelings towards the general distaste of queer individuals in American society can be examined. By repeating the image over and over with slight variations in the color and occasionally the size, Warhol speaks to the societal norm of everyone being the same with only slight alterations. Ever more specifically, the Flowers print in Rhode Island College’s collection further promotes Warhol’s feelings of isolation as a gay man. The two flowers painted orange and the one flower painted yellow are significantly closer in proximity to each other as they are to the single purple flower. While every Flowers print has the same main placement of the four flowers in the image, the color choice for this print in particular demands consideration. Warhol chooses to color the three flowers that are the closest in proximity either the same color of a very close hue, while separating the final flower by painting it a color traditionally associated with feminine characteristics. Through this print in particular, it is clear what the series as a whole meant for Warhol.

While Andy Warhol is still considered an anomaly today, the artist’s intentions behind his work are difficult to recognize as anything less than intriguing. Some may argue his appropriation of imagery for his own benefit outweighs the messages he was trying to portray, but that element of the work only further promotes the message. Having made such an immense quantity of work in nearly every medium one can think of, it can be overwhelming to delve into his vast body of work and inspect it within the greater context of the artist’s time. Flowers stands out, in this respect. Not only because Warhol produced a dizzying number prints from the series, but because the meaning behind the work continues to hold fast in American popular media.

Only now, technology has made the circulation of popular imagery even more easy for media organizations. Flowers leaves the viewer questioning their own consumption of mass media and if content is really what is appears to be. In an age where entire generations have grown up being taught that the entire world can be accessed at their fingertips through one kind of mobile device or another, the messages behind Flowers are as pertinent as they were for Warhol.

Footnotes

1 Whiting, Cécile. 1997.A Taste for Pop : Pop Art, Gender, and Consumer Culture. Cambridge Studies in American Visual Culture. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press.

2 Bergin, Paul. "Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine." Art Journal26, no. 4 (1967): 359-63. doi:10.2307/775065.

3 Andy Warhol, interview by G.R. Swenson. “What is Pop Art,” Art News, 62, no. 7 (November 1963)

4 Whiting

5 Flatley, Jonathan. "Like: Collecting and Collectivity." October132 (2010): 71-98.

6 Siegel, Marc. "Doing It for Andy." Art Journal 62, no. 1 (2003): 6-13. doi:10.2307/3558465.

Bibliography

Andy Warhol, interview by G.R. Swenson. “What is Pop Art,” Art News, 62, no. 7 (November 1963)

Bergin, Paul. "Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine." Art Journal26, no. 4 (1967): 359-63. doi:10.2307/775065.

Flatley, Jonathan. "Like: Collecting and Collectivity." October132 (2010): 71-98.

Lancaster, Mark. "Andy Warhol Remembered." The Burlington Magazine 131, no. 1032 (1989): 198-202

Maizels, Michael, and Andy Warhol. "Doing It Yourself: Machines, Masturbation, and Andy Warhol." Art Journal73, no. 3 (2014): 5-17.

Siegel, Marc. "Doing It for Andy." Art Journal 62, no. 1 (2003): 6-13. doi:10.2307/3558465. Whiting, Cécile. “A Taste for Pop : Pop Art, Gender, and Consumer Culture”. Cambridge

Studies in American Visual Culture. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press. 1997.


Figure 1: Andy Warhol, Flowers, c. 1970, screen print


Figure 2: Patricia Caulfield, Hibiscus Flowers, 1964, photograph


Figure 3: Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic paint on canvas


Figure 4: Hans Gillisz. Bollongier, Flower Painting, c. 1640, oil on panel


Figure 5: Andy Warhol, Atomic Bomb from Death Series, 1965, screen print


Figure 6: Andy Warhol, Resting Boy, c. 1955, drawing on paper


Figure 7: Andy Warhol, Self Portrait in Drag, 1982, Polaroid photograph


Figure 8: Andy Warhol, Jon Gould, c. 1980, gelatin silver print

Page last updated: February 21, 2020