The Shoes complete portfolio by Andy Warhol is a five-piece series depicting one of Warhol’s favorite objects. Long before the Campbell’s Soup cans, the Elizabeths, the Marilyns, and the Maos, there were Andy Warhol’s beloved shoes.
One of the industrial revolution’s most distinctive impacts on fashion was the variety and availability of footwear. Shoes were a common motif in Warhol’s early work as a commercial illustrator. Here, he brings them back to life in the most dazzling way possible. Warhol discovered a way to display the shoe in such an extremely philosophical yet erotic way that it has set the standard for such an undertaking ever since. The Shoes complete portfolio is a stylistic return to form, as Warhol brings an idea from his early days back into the spotlight at the peak of his career.
Although the idea for the series—as it often turned out at The Factory and in his other commissioned works—was suggested to him by someone else, it had somehow also been Warhol’s idea all along. Before the Campbell’s Soup cans and the Marilyns brought him notoriety, Warhol harbored a fascination for shoes, especially women’s shoes like high heels. This intimate fascination reflects Warhol’s embrace of all things American; in this case the display windows that seductively showcased colorful stilettos to the aspiring artist when he first arrived in New York City.
In typical Warhol fashion, the Shoes complete portfolio is oddly disorienting and playful. Each print shows randomly scattered shoes or heels, and although some of the prints are wildly different from each other emotionally and aesthetically, they all stem from Warhol’s trademark approach to repetition. The viewer comes away from the Shoes complete portfolio either feeling that they have been let in on some great secret about shoes, or feeling that they have been betrayed about the possibility of a shoe being meaningful at all.
Shoes 255 and 256 use washed out black and white printing techniques to create a mysterious element around the form of the shoes. Shoes 253 and 254 employ bright Pop Art colors and a disheveled orientation of heels. These prints evoke the glamour and fun of city nightlife while possibly hinting at the drama and mental crises of the night that play out behind closed doors. The black and white prints precede the color prints numerically, but Shoes 257 exhibits a synthesis between the stylistic ambitions in the series.
In the 1980s, Warhol struck up relationships with younger artists in the New York art scene, such as the enigmatic Jean-Michel Basquiat, to re-energize his career. This strategy proved successful, and brought him more attention and financial success (although, the Basquiat collaboration in particular was a flop). During this time, Warhol increasingly devoted collections to more personal and reflective work, such as the more religious Last Supper and the more naturalistic and metaphysical Endangered Species. Some claim that Warhol was forced to tone down the more personal aspects of his work at the beginning of his career, partly due to homophobia and art world pretension. This extended to his shoe fetishism by default. As such, the Shoes complete portfolio holds a special place in Warhol’s work as a perfect combination of prideful ambition, commercial opportunism, and the thoughtful reflection that characterizes Warhol’s influence on American society.
The Shoes Complete Portfolio as Part of Warhol’s Larger Body of Work
During the early 1980s, Andy Warhol formed bonds with a number of younger artists in the New York art scene including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel and David Salle. Warhol saw a re-emergence of critical and financial success during this period of his life. It was at this time that he was inspired to create a series which paid homage to his beginnings as a commercial illustrator. He created his Shoes complete portfolio alongside prints featuring identical images of shoes, but the second series is accented by multi-colors.
Photo credit: Andy Warhol Leonardo Bust, Halston Shoes 1981, Printed Photograph by Robert Levin. Courtesy of the Maison Gerard, New York.