Warhol’s Love Affair with the Shadow

Asked what Pop art is, Lichtenstein once responded, “...it is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us.” In the same series of interviews, conducted by art critic G.R. Swenson in 1963, Warhol summed up an alternative view: “It’s liking things.”

Characteristically evasive, Warhol the artist (rather than the celebrity) has always been difficult to pin down in his work. Forever enamored with the veils and disguises of celebrity, media, and the machine, he concealed himself behind his Factory-produced output of Campbell’s soup cans, silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe, and other appropriated imagery from mass media. These serially produced images and motifs go hand in hand with the artist’s name; lesser-known is Warhol’s love affair with the shadow, a subject he became preoccupied with in the mid-1970s, and which offers an intriguing foil to his desire to emulate the tools of mass production (“The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do,” he remarked in the same interview.)

Currently on view in Galerie Andrea Caratsch’s pop-up exhibition “Warhol, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann”—alongside works by fellow godfathers of Pop Lichtenstein and Wesselmann—is Warhol’s 1978 acrylic and silkscreen-on-canvas work Shadow, an abstract composition that features wide black shadow lines over swathes of thickly painted white acrylic. Suggesting the fleeting and ephemeral passing of light and an unknown, mysterious source, the work is a far cry from the hard lines, neon colors, and mechanized forms he celebrated to such fanfare. 

Warhol’s pursuit of the shadow would lead to his monumental 1978–9 installation, Shadows, an environmental, immersive work in 102 parts, composed of a series of shadowy, screenprinted forms on brightly painted surfaces, which was on view at Dia: Beacon until earlier this year. Later, in 1981, Warhol would draw inspiration from a fictional character popularized in American pulp novels, a noirish crime-fighting fantasy figure known as The Shadow. He assumed the character’s guise in his “Myth” series self-portrait, in which Warhol appears, his face partially obscured and casting a long dark form on the wall. Warhol’s love affair with the shadow came full circle back to his reverence for commerce, but it’s tempting to ascribe his brief pursuit of this natural phenomena to the artist’s awareness of the dark underbelly of the market forces he celebrated—and his own shadow self, concealed behind the mask of celebrity.

Tess Thackara

Pop up—Warhol Lichtenstein Wesselmann” is on view at Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich, May 27–July 24, 2014.

Explore more artists at Galerie Andrea Caratsch