Filed under: Art and Design at University
A lot of people often say that Warhol’s 1964 silkscreen painting of Elizabeth Taylor (below) represents her in a tacky way that she looks like a transvestite or a clown. This is the opinions of people that take a quick glance at it, that do not look into the deeper meanings as to why Andy Warhol used Liz as a subject in the first place, and who she was as a person, not just as an Actress.
Warhol painted a lot of famous people in the 60’s, taking advantage of the celebrity culture swarming America, on which you could say he could be thankful for his career. It is easy to assume that the reason for Warhol’s celebrity obsessions was merely because he could sell more paintings, but I think there was a deeper reason behind him using the subjects he did. If you look at the women that Warhol silk screened, they are all independent and glamorous, women like Marilyn Monroe, Blondie, and of course, Elizabeth Taylor.
However, I do believe that Warhol’s reasons for using Liz as a subject were more than her celebrity status. In the 60’s, Elizabeth was at the height of her fame, and was the highest paid actress when she landed a role in ‘Cleopatra’ which earned her 1 million dollars; an excessive amount of money back then. Unknown to most that during this time Elizabeth was in and out of hospital with Pneumonia, and it was so bad that on one occasion she had to have an emergency tracheotomy. She had always battled with her health. Something that not a lot of people know about her is that she was born with Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, a life changing illness that in her later life, she couldn’t escape. All in all Elizabeth was in and out of hospital all her life and had over 100 operations. Due to all this bad health, she still continued to be that glamorous, independent woman that Hollywood adored, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why Warhol was so fascinated with her. Not just because she was famous, because she was a brave woman, never letting her illness show; as well as independent and glamorous.
I believe Warhol admired Elizabeth for her great work as an actress, despite the constant health battles, which is why I think he chose the vibrant colours in the screen prints. Deep down, this painting of Elizabeth depicts 2 sides to the actress. The one the public knew, and the one the public didn’t. The vibrancy of the colours used in this silk screen painting says to me that Warhol wanted the public to depict Elizabeth as a head strong, powerful, brave and glamorous. The fact that he named the piece ‘Liz’ a nickname, not her full name ‘Elizabeth’ also adds the personal side to her that Warhol was showing us through his work.
These are my interpretations of the relationship between the pair, and my personal thoughts on the painting. I feel that now I have looked into it a bit more, I empathise with Liz, and admire how well she coped with her bad health when being such a huge star. Having neurological health problems myself, I especially admire how she built a life of success in a career she loved.
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