Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Liz and Warhol

RIP Elizabeth Taylor - what a life. Her portrait by Andy Warhol from 1964 shows her when she was 32 - she'd been in the movies for 23 years already, having signed her first contract with Universal Pictures at the age of 9. He also made a series of images featuring her in National Velvet when she was 11. She was an inevitable draw for him - he created much of his own fame by his fascination with the shadow and substance of celebrity and beauty. He once said that a celebrity should know the difference between themselves and their image. "An actress should count up her performances, a model her photographs. This way, he said, 'you'd would always know exactly what you're worth, and you don't get stuck thinking your product is you and your fame". A fitting match is Liz's comment, quoted in Mel Gussow's NY Times obituary “The public me,” she said, “the one named Elizabeth Taylor, has become a lot of hokum and fabrication — a bunch of drivel — and I find her slightly revolting.” Warhol died in 1987 (shortly after my one and only in-person encounter with him, at a party, where he stood in the corner giving the rest of us a cold-eyed stare - 'observing,' his noted preference for social interactions) and the portraits he made of now-dead celebrities seem more and more elegiac - less sensational and more richly beautiful. The sharp separations of color dictated by the silkscreen process he used give the images a straightforward, robust kind of vigor that both underlines and confronts the fragility of some of the celebrities he recorded. Tragedy and human frailty were as much the attraction for him as beauty and fame: Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Taylor - and Warhol himself. These images that seemed so 'Pop' and transient when they were made now have a kind of poetic depth, and form some of our most iconic memories.

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