There is a lot of talk stirring up the art world in anticipation for the upcoming sales of two Andy Warhol paintings, estimated to be worth up to $130 million for both. One of the paintings is Warhol’s, Triple Elvis (Ferus Type) , which features the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley. The high value of this painting in particular can be attributed to the painting’s large dimensions, Warhol’s rare use of painting on canvas, and of course, the magnificent star power of the the painting’s subject and author.
Elvis Presley was one of Warhol’s earliest subjects, one in which he revisited several times throughout his career. In 1963, Warhol developed a twenty two piece series called Elvis for a solo show at The Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. He had been gaining momentum in his career after his Campbell’s Soup Cans show at the same gallery the year before.
The image used was one taken from a publicity still from the 1960’s film Flaming Star. In this photo, Elvis Presley is dressed as a cowboy with gun drawn, rather than the usual guitar in hand, revealing Warhol’s intent to depict Elvis as an actor, rather than to portray him as a musician.
This distinct choice to have a black image on a silver long strip could possibly be mimicking a film strip or “The silver screen”. Once all the images had been printed, he shipped the whole canvas along with a few different sized stretcher bars to Irving Blum in Los Angeles who cut the canvas and matched the images to the appropriate stretcher bars.
His only request be that the pieces would be placed directly next to each other, continuing with his repetitive style that had become his trademark. One critic said of this style:
“Toe to toe, repeated atop one another, poor Elvis becomes as thin and hazy as the idyllic illusion he publicly symbolizes; the assembly line produces the emptiness and sterility of soulless, over-managed puppetry.”
It is enticing to consider the critic’s analysis of Warhol’s Elvis as a comment that is equally applicable to Warhol’s persona. Paralleled are the stories and personas of two of Elvis Presley (“The King of Rock and Roll”) and Andy Warhol (“The Pope of Pop (Art)” two of the most significant pop culture icons of the twentieth century.
In the early 1960s, Andy Warhol turned to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor as artistic subject matter. He produced several life-sized portraits of Elvis Presley, America’s most famous rock and roll singer and sex symbol throughout the 1950s. By 1963, when this painting was made, Elvis—whose hip-shaking moves had scandalized some only a decade before—was being overshadowed by a new generation of performers, and his career was on the decline.
In Double Elvis, Warhol created a strobe effect by overlapping two images of the singer—most likely sourced from a publicity still for the Western film Flaming Star (1960). The silver background conveys a sense of glamour, while also serving a practical purpose—the opacity of the spray paint allowed Warhol to easily mask and silkscreen multiple images on top of each other.Double Elvis originally belonged to a long, continuous canvas of Elvises that was later cut and stretched into multiple paintings. The artist’s interest in film might explain why he created Elvis in double—the singer/actor appears to be moving back and forth, as if in a film strip.
Nat Finkelstein. Andy, Bob Dylan, and Elvis. 1965. Photograph © Nat Finkelstein.
A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).
A form, sign, or emblem that represents something else, often something immaterial, such as an idea or emotion.
The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.
A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).
Fast bursts of intermittent light used to illuminate moving subjects.
A printing technique in which areas of a silkscreen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, are selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee, creating a positive image.
A representation of a particular individual.
Impenetrable to the passage of light.
The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.
A Factory Where Art and Superstars Were Made
In 1962, Warhol founded “The Factory,” his 47th Street Manhattan studio (which later moved downtown to Union Square), where he surrounded himself with artists, musicians, writers, and underground “superstars” who helped him make paintings, sculptures, and films. Collaboration would remain an essential, yet controversial, element of Warhol’s entire artistic career.