Artibus et Historiae no. 66 (XXXIII)

2012, ISSN 0391-9064

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JOHN R. BLAKINGER - Death in America and Life Magazine: Sources for Andy Warhol’s Disaster Paintings (pp. 269–286)

This essay presents new sources for Andy Warhol’s Death in America paintings. Produced between 1962 and 1964 for the artist’s international solo debut at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris, this discrete group of silkscreened canvases, part of the artist’s grisly Disaster series, depicts car wrecks, suicide leaps, electric chairs, race riots, most wanted criminals, and atomic explosions. New evidence from Life magazine challenges conventional approaches to Warhol’s use of appropriated media imagery and suggests that the artist manipulated rather than merely reproduced his sources for these paintings. Warhol violently transformed images from a Life magazine photographic essay portraying an idealized vision of America’s small towns. The artist also mimicked the visual elements of advertisements in Life magazine yet changed their narrative content. By subverting idyllic images of postwar American life, Warhol engaged in a critical and highly intentional artistic practice. This essay additionally considers the possible political effect and international reception of the Death in America paintings.

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