ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985

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Lot 15
Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985

Sold for US$ 281,000 inc. premium
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985
i. with The Estate of Andy Warhol stamp twice and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamp twice and numbered 'PA10.251' (on the overlap)
ii. with The Estate of Andy Warhol stamp and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamp twice and numbered 'PA10.369' (on the overlap)
each: synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
each: 20 x 16in. (51 x 41cm)


  • Provenance
    The Estate of Andy Warhol, New York.
    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York.
    Lococo Fine Art, St. Louis.
    Private Collection.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 June 2007, lot 392.
    Private American Collection.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928, Andy Warhol graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh and worked as a commercial artist and illustrator. By the 1960s, he began to integrate imagery from commercial goods and advertisements into his own particular visual vernacular. These popular images, prevalent across America and all facets of mass media became the foundations of Pop Art, which tied together consumer culture and artistic exploration – calling into question the origin and value of artistic agency as well as the American identity. When asked about his new notion of Pop, Warhol remarked "once you 'got' Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again. The mystery was gone, but the amazement was just starting."1 Intertwining mass-produced products and techniques through the production process, Warhol pushed aside the boundaries between high and commercial art, as well as continued to redefine the role of 'the artist' until the very end of his career.

    Composed in stark black and white and speaking to the artist's stylistic tendency of heightened contrast, Warhol's two works Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985-86 were produced just one year prior to his death and act like a net, pulling together divergent themes of his artistic practice, such obsessive repetition to the adoption of communal imagery. The font used on these canvases is reminiscent of a supermarket special – noting the melancholic title as if it were an exclusive, limited-time offer in his fabricated market where towers of Brillo Boxes (1964) and rows Campbell Soup Cans (1962) repeat endlessly.

    Known for his apt critique on commercialism, consumerism, religion and politics, Warhol's reworking of the everyday, from commodities such as Coke and Campbell's Soup to pertinent images pertaining to political philosophies, as in the Civil Rights movement and discussion on the death penalty, exists as a mirror for society as a whole. The notion of reflection and meditative contemplation are not obvious markers within Warhol's work, however when reviewing his own career, Warhol couldn't help but note the fleeting nature of life. With their resemblance to picket signs from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, Heaven and Hell are the products of intense retrospection, where simple phrasing presents a provocative moment. Here, Warhol utilizes the words rather than an image for their static feature – forcing the viewer to comprehend death rather than wade through varying interpretations and impressions of a fictitious reality.

    Early works that have implied a similar communal pause are Warhol's Race Riot (1964) and Electric Chair (1964). Both works revolve around violence, politically charged moments and mortality, which is confirmed with Warhol's own admission that "everything I was doing must have been Death".2 Thrusting these socio-politically charged images in the face of the public, Warhol appears unaffected – as if these moments are abstract slices of time and reality. Although produced nearly two decades after these iconic works, Warhol's Heaven and Hell relates profoundly to the artist's fascination with his own death, most particularly after his own assassination attempt.

    Throughout the 1960s, assassination attempts – both successful as well as futile – were consistently chronicled on television, the radio and daily newspaper publications. Warhol even pulled inspiration from the headlines, highlighting a vision of Jackie Kennedy as she mourned at the funeral of her husband, John F. Kennedy. Warhol would explore this image to its limits, eking out heartbreaking sadness while feeding the viewing public's lustful desire for the celebritized – no matter how gut-wrenching. Such an event, however would also touch Warhol's life. On June 3rd, 1968, Valerie Solanas, a former employee of Warhol's, went to Warhol's studio the 'Factory' and shot him once, piercing his spleen, liver, lung, esophagus and stomach. Although he survived, the psychological impact was debilitating, causing Warhol to become a recluse and pulling away from the public life and Pop culture he helped to create. He spent much of the rest of his life in fear that Solanas would attack again, particularly as she stalked him by phone up until his death. The emotional and psychological scars left by Solanas' attempted assassination seemingly loitered like a dispirited yet agitated cloud over the last series of works in Warhol's career.

    Although he himself was rocked by violence, Warhol continued to explore his artistic tendencies. He also began collaborating with other artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Francesco Clemente. While on his most recent trip to Rome in April of 1980, Warhol had the opportunity to meet with the Pope and receive his blessing. He had hoped to paint his portrait and began to explore other religious imagery throughout the canon of Art History. Coincidentally, Warhol was commissioned in 1985 to paint his own iteration of the Last Supper - in honor of and inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. Just after this trip, Warhol began Heaven and Hell, referencing current explorations into 'word art' while continuing the undertone and subjectivity of Catholicism within his work. As a Catholic, Warhol treasured his beliefs and would often attend the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue at 90th Street. He began to outline and trace reproduction of Old Master religious works combing them with this consumer imagery – overlaying Christ with company emblems and price tags.

    In February of 1987, Warhol fell ill and unexpectedly passed away, shocking the art world to its core. After his death, friend and collaborator Keith Haring mentioned that in a letter to their mutual friend Paige Powell: "I was glad Andy was really at peace with himself though. I think the times we spent with him, and his interest in health, vitamins, crystals, God, etc., were testament to his inner peace".3 For his memorial service friends choice one of his reworkings of Madonna and Child – uniting his faith and artistry at the end. When viewed amongst his life's work, Warhol's Heaven and Hellcan be seen as a last message from the artist – one who knew all too well that life was fragile and that Heaven and Hell were just a breath away.

    1. P. Hackett, Popism: the Warhol '60s, New York, 1980, pp. 39-40.
    2. G. R. Swenson, "What is Pop Art?", in Art News, 62, November 1963, pp. 60-63.
    3. John Gruen, Keith Haring, The Authorized Biography, New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991.
    4. Thierry de Duve, translated by Rosalind Krauss, "Andy Warhol, of The Machine Perfected," in October, vol. 48, Spring, 1989, p. 14.

    "Perhaps in order for the work to last, the man had to die. According to the noncausal logic of 'surface incidents', he had to survive Valerie Solanis's pistol shots because that very day the front page of all the newspapers was taken up by Robert Kennedy's assassination. And the same logic decreed that he die on February 22, 1987, almost by accident, like a commodity whose defect had been detected too late."4 – Thierry de Duve
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive and Negative), 1985
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