“They brought me back from dead”: The Death of Pop Art’s Age of Innocence Depicted in Andy Warhol's Painting, Gun
By Aurora Garrison
Warhol's Gun (1980-81), owned by The Revolver Gallery, singularly depicts the new and evolving artistic themes in the aftermath of Warhol's June 3, 1968 shooting and arduous recovery from his life-threatening wounds and the turmoil and violence of America in 1968.
Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987), Gun, 1981-82, Revolver Gallery, Santa Monica, California.
“For days I wasn’t sure if I was really alive or not,” Warhol said after the shooting.
Andy Warhol ushered in the Pop Art movement, an era of artistic innocence and innovation. He began in New York in the Sixties with his hip, iconic, indelible renderings. His work, then and now, is controversial.
He defines his Sixties’ avante-garde and Warholian vision of art as, "Pop Art is a way of liking things.”
On June 3, 1968 Pop Art and Andy Warhol took three bullets to the gut from an assassin's gun leaving in its aftermath Pop Art and Warhol – as a Lazarusian artist transformed – in its wake.
“They brought me back from dead,” Warhol said in his Popism: The Warhol Sixties, “–literally, because I’m told that at one point I was gone.”
Further exacerbating Warhol’s 1968 shooting, the horrors of the Summer of ’68 in America, his surgery and prolonged recovery was the unthinkable assassination of Robert Kennedy, two days later on June 5, 1968 in the Ambassador Hotel in LA.
The news broke while Warhol was convalescing in New York’s Columbus Hospital on 19th Street, six blocks from The Factory, where Warhol was shot. “As I was coming down from my operation, I heard a television going somewhere and the words “Kennedy” and “assassin” and “shot” over and over again.
“I felt dead. I kept thinking, I’m already dead. This is what it is like to be dead – you think you’re alive but you’re dead. I just think I’m lying here in the hospital.”
The New York press corps sensationalized the shooting on their front pages. The New York Post’s banner headline read: “ANDY WARHOL FIGHTS FOR LIFE”. The Daily News front page headline read: “ACTRESS SHOOTS WARHOL, Cries ‘He Controlled My Life.’”
“Actress Shoots Andy Warhol,” Daily News, June 1968, New York.
Warhol never fully recovered, both physically and mentally. He was traumatized by the violence of the shooting and feared another shooting. As a result of his near-death experience, his art – after the shooting and in the eighties – took on new, darker themes of death, violence and, perhaps unexpectedly, religious subjects.
Warhol's Gun is a seminal work in 1980-81 that captures Warhol's life and times with its stark and shockingly contrasted images and themes of death and violence.
The Gun painting uniquely captures Warhol's artistic and thematic break following his shooting and Kennedy’s fatal shooting in LA. On canvas, Warhol bleeds out his personal brush with death against the commercialization of violence prevalent in America.
The Gun is the quintessential representation of Art Historian John Richardson’s admonition, "Never take Andy at face value." Richardson makes this famous statement at Warhol's memorial, as Warhol's Eulogist, on April 1, 1987 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, before thousands of mourners marking the icon's death. Warhol’s images are sublime in their simplicity, naked with truth. The Gun is emblematic of Warhol’s art and artistic themes in 1980.
Warhol's post-shooting themes of death and violence come into sharp focus in the Gun following 13 years after Valerie Solanas shot him in his famous New York art studio.
As Warhol's art began as a "way of liking things", it ended, in his later works – such as the Gun – as a way of "knowing things" as his images and subjects of his art journeyed with him touching on universal, cautionary themes of violence and death in society and culture.
The Gun painting is prescient. Warhol's art, his artistic themes and his person reacted to the turbulent sixties as American society and its artists reacted to and created new art and art forms interpreting the seemingly unknowable times and shadowy future.
Yet, somehow, as all great artists and their art do, Warhol achieved clarity in his iconic depiction of the Gun and its graphic depiction against violence.
Warhol is and remains today a revolutionary figure in art, culture and artistic innovations from his first images in 1960 to his death in 1987. In 1998 art historian Jane Dillenberger states, Warhol is “one of the greatest artists of the century.” Art historian Arthur Danto concurs: “When the final multivolume Popular History of Art is published, ours will be the Age of Warhol – an unlikely giant, but a giant nonetheless.”
The Gun remains as the Warhol’s artistic representation of anti-gun and anti-violence statements that are heard, clearly and sharply – and all too often in our 21st century. The Gun stands for a radical and prescient manifesto in Warhol's art and a burning, condemning, and searing icon of American and on violence.