Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Oxidation Painting, 1979 132 x 193 cm. (52 x 76 in.)
Lot 90
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Oxidation Painting 132 x 193 cm. (52 x 76 in.) Executed in 1979
£350,000 - 450,000
US$ 590,000 - 760,000
Auction Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Oxidation Painting 132 x 193 cm. (52 x 76 in.) Executed in 1979
Lot Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Oxidation Painting
signed Andy Warhol, and dated 1979 on overlap; also stamped Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board and numbered A106.009 on the overlap
copper metallic pigment and urine on canvas
132 x 193 cm. (52 x 76 in.)
Executed in 1979

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Alexander Iolas, Athens.


    “Pee is getting big, Bob.”

    - Andy Warhol (quoted in Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, New York, 1990)

    The milieu from which the Oxidation Paintings (commonly referred to by Warhol and everyone else as the Piss Paintings) sprung cannot be underestimated as significant force behind their creation. The 70s was an era of hedonistic excess and beneath the veneer of vacuous disco music and dubious fashion, there was a dark underbelly of out-of-control and sometimes dangerous behaviour fuelled by copious amounts of readily available and willingly shared drugs and sex partners. Bob Colacello, the editor of Interview and Warhol’s frequent companion on his nightly excursions downtown puts the Piss Paintings into perspective:

    ‘The most fashionable haunts of the sexual fast crowd were the Anvil and the Toilet. The Anvil was famous for its fist-fucking stage show. The Toilet featured tubs and troughs where naked men lay for other naked men to urinate on them. It was like a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph come alive. This was what Andy’s Piss Paintings and Torso Series were really all about: what was going on. He hadn’t anticipated the times – Mapplethorpe did that. His specialty was sensing the times as they happened, and it enabled him not only to join the latest trend but to leap to the head of the line.’ (Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up,op. cit., p. 341.

    The Piss Paintings appear to be the least mechanical and least controlled works of his career. The gestural quality and pure abstraction of these paintings seem to belie Warhol’s oft-stated desire to become a machine, to be a robotic manufacturer of multiple images produced in his ‘Factory.’ Up until the Oxidation series the rigid template of the silkscreen defined his output, but this group, begun in 1977, veers off towards a more painterly, more unpredictable result.

    The method behind the creation of these paintings was fairly straightforward: copper paint would be applied to canvases of differing sizes lying flat on the floor and various friends, employees and Factory hangers-on would be invited or instructed to urinate on the surface. (‘I told Ronnie not to pee when he gets up in the morning – to try to hold it until he gets to the office, because he takes lots of vitamin B so the canvas turns a really pretty color when it’s his piss.’ The Andy Warhol Diaries, Pat Hackett, ed., New York, 1989, p. 55). The oxidation caused by the reaction of the copper with ureic acid created a variety of metallic colours and the random ‘application’ of urine provided the unexpected patterning. (‘Bob MacBride peed on one of the Piss paintings in the back for me, and he kept going back to see if the colors had changed,’ The Andy Warhol Diaries, p. 173). The collaborative input often provided by studio assistants and others surrounding Warhol suited his working method, offering him a free association of ideas and creativity. As he himself wrote: ‘When someone doesn’t quite completely understand what you want from them, or when they didn’t quite hear what you told them to do, or when the tape is bad, or when their own fantasies start coming through, I often wind up liking what comes out of it all better than I liked my original idea…instead of getting transmissions you get transmutations, and that’s much more interesting in the long run.’ (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, from A to B and Back Again, New York, 1977, p. 99).

    In addition to Ronnie Cutrone and Bob MacBride, Warhol’s main ‘collaborator’ on the Piss Paintings was Victor Hugo, a window-dresser, sometime artist and close friend of fashion designer Halston. Known for his provocative and outrageous behaviour, Hugo (or parts of him, actually) also featured prominently as one of the models for the Torso series. In fact, Hugo claimed that he gave Warhol the ideas for both series. This may or may not be true, but it illustrates Warhol’s method of getting others to do the ‘dirty work.’

    ‘…Nature changes things and carbon is turned into diamonds and dirt into gold…’ (The Andy Warhol Diaries, p. 71)

    ‘Warhol reveals his Rumpelstiltskin desire to recycle waste into precious metal…It is safe to assume that the artist had only slightest interest in the chemical process, and was, in fact far more interested in the alchemical implications, converting bodily fluids into something aesthetic and valuable.’ (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 365, 371).

    The two comments above underscore Warhol’s well-documented reputation as a recycler, a hoarder, a tight-fisted miser who could never throw or give anything away. Warhol’s sense of economy is evidenced in the unedited early films (editing cost time and money), the repetition of the screened images and the penchant for working in series. By extension the use or of bodily excretions is perfectly logical: it is truly the alchemist’s turning of lead into gold.

    Numerous comparisons have been made with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and such linking has been said to satisfy Warhol’s sense of art history and his place in it (but which he would placidly deny if pressed). As in Pollock’s ‘action painting’ the artist (or in Warhol’s case, his stand-in) physically ‘attacks’ the canvas, creating a powerful, almost violent patterning. It has been argued that contrary to myth Pollock’s drip technique was actually quite controlled and not the spontaneous exercise that Hans Namuth’s staged film of 1950 presented. Undeniably, Pollock was intrigued by the chance his technique offered and it is this shared serendipity that marks the Piss Paintings. However, the general tendency to intellectualise the Piss Paintings overlooks a number of sources behind the works, including a scene in Pasolini’s 1968 film Teorema , which shows an artist urinating on his own paintings. ‘It’s a parody of Jackson Pollock,’ commented Warhol. Thus it could be said that Warhol was literally ‘taking the piss’ out of Pollock, an artist whom nonetheless Warhol held in high esteem.

    Warhol’s desire to enter the pantheon of modern art travelled hand-in-hand with his darker obsessions. Although Warhol never participated in the debauchery that took place in the clubs and in the back room of the Factory, he was present as an observer, a witness, a voyeur in the same way as he was with his Polaroid camera and Sony recorder at Studio 54. ‘It’s so abstract,’ he would drawl. The Piss paintings are beautifully abstract and although they are, on the surface, so unlike the rest of his œuvre, they are a record of the moment in the same way that the portraits, advertising and magazine images of celebrity captured their own ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’
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