The Shadows V complete portfolio by Andy Warhol is part of his larger Shadows portfolio, which consists of 102 individual painted canvases installed to form one continuous piece. These obscure forms are each printed in two colors (Shadows V 224 and Shadows V 225). The Shadows series was originally conceived as room decoration, referring to this multiple part work as “disco-décor”. The large scale and color Warhol used in this work kept the viewer guessing what the subject might be, without looking at the title. The use of black in most of the prints portrays a dark moody feeling throughout the series. That feeling is elevated by the work’s deviation from the majority of Warhol’s catalog. At the time of the Shadows prints’ release, Warhol had been creating celebrity portraits and vibrant Pop Art images. Such a foray into dark, abstract art isolates the work from Warhol’s typical artistic tendencies. The Shadows prints are big, colorful filmstrip inspired images that evoke experimental film and the drones of the Velvet Underground. The work is mysterious and subtle, as only slight variations in shape and color separate each print from one another.
Shadows V was published in 1979, in collaboration with Warhol’s preferred “master” printer Rupert Jasen Smith. The same year, the Shadows works were exhibited at the Heiner Freidrich gallery in New York. Warhol himself never saw all 102 panels of the Shadows portfolio together. He left no instructions on the order in which to hang them and since the pieces are not numbered, they can be hung at random. Perhaps leaving room for play, he allowed viewers to have a new experience each time the panels are installed. This idea evokes a new concept, which is not seen in any of Warhol’s other works, as most of his pieces—although they are made in a series—are meant to be hung individually.
MOCA director Philippe Vergne describes Warhol’s Shadows suites as, “the line between the American dream and the American death. They are as dark as they are glamorous.” The individual interpretation each viewer has with the work makes this a powerful series in that unlike Warhol’s other works, the work is not straightforward or meant to showcase technique. These 74 x 52 inch canvases reinforce the American ideal of “bigger is better.” Perhaps the abstract depiction could trigger us to believe Warhol was pointing out that for most things in life we believe that bigger is better, and that he did not feel the need to showcase actual objects that fit this phrase. The Shadows V complete portfolios includes (FS II.224-225). The greater Shadows series includes Shadows I (FS II.204-209), Shadows II (fs ii.210-215), Shadows III (FS II.216-221), Shadows IV (FS II.222-223) and Shadows V (FS II.224-225).
SHADOWS V BY ANDY WARHOL AS PART OF HIS LARGER BODY OF WORK
Warhol is well known for his images of popular culture and the repetition of those images. Although Shadows V diverts from the traditional mass media objects that Warhol famously created, the series illustrates his interest in creating works that all bear the same compositional aspects, yet are still able to hold onto their individual uniqueness. Warhol’s Shadows V series is a direct continuation of the other four Shadows portfolios as it features similar compositional imagery and color schemes.
- Arthur Tress, Andy Warhol, 1979. Image: © Arthur Tress, © Courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York, Artwork © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
- Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga (on left) at the Factory, New York, 1964. Photo: Ugo Mulas. © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved. Artwork: © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.