Andy Warhol’s San Francisco Silverspot 298 is a print from Warhol’s Endangered Species series from 1983. The title is most likely a reference to the callippe silverspot, a subspecies of butterfly indigenous to the San Francisco Bay Area, from which it obviously gets its name, and named so to differentiate it from related butterfly populations in the Pacific Northwest and Nevada regions. While multiple previous attempts had been made from as early as 1978 to change its status, this particular subspecies wasn’t officially classified as endangered by the federal government until 1997. As such, it is the only insect featured among Warhol’s Endangered Species, making it something of a special consideration. Warhol had shown an affinity for butterflies before, creating Happy Butterfly Day, an ink-blotted multicolored collage of the winged creatures as part of his commercial advertising work dating from 1954.
Right away, San Francisco Silverspot 298 is evocative of another iconic Warhol series, namely Flowers. Instead of poppy five-petaled flowers set against a grassy background, however, the silverspot now sits there. And instead of verdant blades of grass, Warhol instead overexposes them, bordering on white, alongside the deep blue shadows they create. The butterfly retains this blue as well, having it mostly cover its thorax, abdomen, and the proximal parts of its wings. The rest of its wings show an even brighter white than the grass blades, while having that white encroached upon by touches of lime green, red, and yellow. Like others in the series, the butterfly is outlined in hand-drawn lines. Two sets of lines seem to be in play within this piece, one white and one brownish orange, sometimes working with each other and sometimes opposing. This may most noticeably be seen with the butterfly’s antennae. The butterfly seems somewhat detached in the foreground, somehow floating above the grass and captured statically mid-flight at the same time.
San Francisco Silverspot 298 is a masterpiece that is certainly indicative of Warhol’s work in the 1980s, when he reached the summit of his artistic skills. The Endangered Species portfolio is a favorite amongst Warhol collectors, and has become especially cherished in recent years. Other works from this series include Siberian Tiger, and Black Rhinoceros.
Photograph of Warhol with Endangered Species screen prints taken by Brownie Harris, 1982, The Factory, NYC.