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Andy Warhol announced his disengagement from the process of aesthetic creation in 1963: “I think somebody should be able to do all of my paintings for me,” he told critic G. R. Swenson. Warhol, like other Pop artists, used found printed images from newspapers, publicity stills, and advertisements as his subject matter; he adopted silkscreening, a technique of mass reproduction, as his medium. And unlike the Abstract Expressionists, who searched for a spiritual pinnacle in their art, Warhol aligned himself with the signs of contemporary mass culture. His embrace of subjects traditionally considered debased—from celebrity worship to food labels—has been interpreted as both an exuberant affirmation of American culture and a thoughtless espousal of the “low.”
News reports of violent death—suicides, car crashes, assassinations, and executions—preoccupied Warhol and added another dimension to his art. In the early 1960s he began to make paintings, such as Orange Disaster #5, with the serial application of images revolving around the theme of death. Orange Disaster #5, with its electric chair repeated 15 times, speaks to the constant reiteration of tragedy in the media, and becomes, perhaps, an attempt to exorcise this image of death through repetition. However, it also emphasizes the pathos of the empty chair waiting for its next victim.
The image of Marilyn Monroe first appeared in the artist's work during 1962 and, along with portraits of Jackie Kennedy, constitutes the artist's best-known celebrity subject. Evidencing Warhol's lifelong preoccupation with the media icon, One Hundred and Fifty Multicolored Marilyns reveals his fascination with notoriety and doomed beauty. Here, the moody palette and thick application of paint are more expressively devastating than early portraits of the same subject and perhaps relate to the artist's reflection upon his own mortality.