Stencil, Paint, Repeat: The Method and Reasoning of Warhol

Andy Warhol, “Warhol in his own words: Untitled statements (1963-87),” in Michael Wren’s Andy Warhol in His Own Words (Omnibus Press; March 9, 1993) of the In Their Own Words series.

Leading up to the year 1993, author Michael Wren began compiling different quotes from pop artist Andy Warhol to contribute to the series In Their Own Words, and on March 9th in 1993, he published the book Andy Warhol in His Own Words through the Omnibus Press. Several quotes arose within this collection to shed light upon his thought process when creating his most famous works, namely the Marilyn Diptych. Created in 1962, this gigantic 80-inch by 144-inch painting consisted of fifty copies of the same image of the celebrity Marilyn Monroe, who had recently died, painted onto silkscreen with Warhol’s own unique process, twenty-five in bright colors and the other twenty-five in black and white. This piece fit right in with the standard of “pop art” in this time and era: a challenge to traditional fine art in how it included an image pertaining to a popular societal figure and was removed from its known context.

In fact, Marilyn Monroe’s diptych and 129 Die in Jet! were Andy Warhol’s first clash with the theme of death and the beginning of his series based on deaths and disasters. Now, the intent of Warhol in creating these pieces—whether it was “to intensify or blunt the menacing content of these pictures via repetition”—is still and open question, as stated by Roger Kamholz in his piece on this particular series. The purpose of his use of those vibrant colors was brought into question, however, since it made critics and viewers wonder if the use of saturated color versus the plain black and white held some significant meaning. In response to this, Warhol was quoted as saying: “I just see [her] as just another person. As for whether it’s symbolical to paint Monroe in such violent colors: it’s beauty, and she’s beautiful and if something’s beautiful it’s pretty colors, that’s all,” (343) meaning that he had no other reason to use such pronounced colors than the admittedly superficial reason that “she was beautiful.”

But another quote—one that rather closely pertains to the open question of the purpose of the repetition within the diptych—brings into view what might have been his actual intent, with Warhol mentioning: “[The] more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.” (340) This implies that Warhol understood that upon first hearing of the tragic news of Monroe’s passing, the public would have been in shock and even dismayed at the news, and that in repeating the image again and again to where every detail was ingrained into the diptych viewers’ minds, they would become desensitized to the news and be able to find peace with it. Now, that raises the question if this was originally his intent or if it was an unexpected side effect, but regretfully, that will have to be a question for another day.

– Amy LaPointe

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