No ‘fright wig’, no dark sunglasses: an intimate portrait of Andy Warhol

Arifa Akbar

IN16208931  202x300 No fright wig, no dark sunglasses: an intimate portrait of Andy WarholIn public, Andy Warhol was seen as the consummate artist-showman, presiding over his celebrity-riddled studio, The Factory, surrounded by socialites and rarely seen out of his famously flamboyant ‘fright wig’ by paparazzi. In private, he was a near-recluse who lived with his mother and had a terror of ageing and death.

These little seen aspects of his life only became more pronounced after he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1968. Now, an image that captures Warhol’s vulnerability will be displayed in Britain for the first time since it was painted in 1970.

The portrait of the American father of Pop Art shows Warhol as he was 40 years ago: ageing, alone, cripplingly shy with his eyes closed, and two red scars running across his chest that bear testimony to the attack on his life.

Until this point, he was rarely seen out of his fright wig and slick black turtlenecks and suits which he liked to wear on New York’s celebrity circuit.

Alice Neel, a fellow New York artist somehow convinced Warhol to come to her studio and take off his shirt so she could paint him as he had never been seen before.

The image, which reveals a man far removed from the cool, composed and glamorous character he consistently presented to the world, will be shown at the Whitechapel Gallery, in East London, from 8 July, as part of an exhibition dedicted to works by Neel called “Painted Truths”.

Achim Borchardt-Hume, chief curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, described the painting – never before seen out of America – as one that redefined his image.
“He was a reticent person who had always projected this image of presiding over The Factory and its hedonistic environment,” he said.

Mr Borchardt-Hume believes that Neel, who formed intimate friendships with her sitters and often persuaded them to remove their clothes, had invited Warhol into her studio in 1070, two year after the radical feminist, Valarie Solanas, attempted to kill him, and convinced him to remove his shirt to reveal his wounds.

“This is one of only two documents which show the scars left on Warhol’s chest from the attack. The other one is a photograph of Warhol by Richard Avedon, which shows just his chest with his black jumper pulled up, which is quite fetishistic. This painting by Neel shows him as a very vulnerable person – his eyes are almost closed, he is ageing, he is even more reclusive after 1968; his vulnerability is completely exposed. It brings out the great tension between the image of him as the man wearing a wig with celebrities around him, and the man that he was. It made him real,” he said.

Solanas originally wrote a play called Up Your Ass about a man-hating prostitute. In 1967, she approached outside his studio and asked him to produce the play.
Intrigued by the title, Warhold accepted the script for review but sources from inside his Factory reported that Warhol feared it was so pornographic, it must be a police trap.

Solanas began to telephone Warhol, demanding the return of the script, which he had since lost. When he admitted this, she demanded money as payment for its loss, eventually seeking him out and shooting him. Although he survived, surgeons had to open his chest to massage his heart to help stimulate its movement again, and he suffered from its physical effects for the rest of his life.

(Image courtesy of Alice Neel/Whitechapel Gallery)

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