Size comparison image showing the size of the Skulls Complete Portfolio relative to the height of Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.

Skulls Complete Portfolio

Catalog Title: Skulls Complete Portfolio (FS II.157-160)
Year: 1976
Size: 30" x 40" | 76.2 x 101.6 cm
Medium: Portfolio of four screenprints on Strathmore Bristol paper
Edition: Edition of 50, 10 AP, signed and numbered in pencil as follows: II.157 and II.159 – lower left; II.158 – lower center; II.160 – signed lower right, numbered lower left.

The Skulls complete portfolio is a set of 4 screenprints by Andy Warhol. Skulls is a mesmerizing journey into the human condition, confronting us with the inescapable reality of mortality. Published in 1976, this series is a departure from Warhol’s earlier works, which often focused on celebrity and consumer culture.

The Skulls portfolio is based on object photographs taken by Andy Warhol’s assistant, Ronnie Cutrone. Using intricate play of light and shadow, Warhol creates a tension that beckons viewers into a contemplation of their own mortality. The portfolio consists of four prints, each featuring different color combinations that breathe life into the age-old theme of death. The vibrant hues of red, yellow, blue, and purple stand in stark contrast to the macabre subject matter, creating a thought-provoking juxtaposition.

This series signifies a pivotal shift in Warhol’s career, possibly influenced by his near-fatal shooting in 1968. By employing the skull as a motif, Warhol evokes the traditional genre of vanitas and confronts viewers with the inevitability of death. This significant body of work also showcases his ongoing exploration of the still life genre in the 1970s, which includes his Hammer and Sickle (1976), Gems (1978), Grapes (1979) and Space Fruit (1979) portfolios. Departing from the conventions of still life painting, yet using its traditional props, Warhol challenges preconceived notions of the genre. He employs color blocking techniques and abstract elements, transforming the subject matter into visually captivating compositions.

In contrast to Warhol’s iconic 1960s celebrity prints, which captured the essence of famous personalities through their defining features, the Skulls series shifts focus to a subject that lacks individual characteristics. Intriguingly, this Pop Art exploration of mortality echoes Warhol’s earlier musings on consumer goods, such as Coca-Cola. Just as anyone, regardless of their financial status, can purchase an ideal can of Coke, the Skull series reminds us that beneath our unique exteriors, we all share the same skeletal structure and the same inevitable fate.

The Skulls portfolio exemplifies Warhol’s ability to transform familiar subjects into captivating works that challenge our perceptions and provoke deep introspection. Through the use of vivid colors and intricate play of light and shadow, Warhol brings a modern perspective to the traditional vanitas genre. This series offers both collectors and art enthusiasts an opportunity to explore Warhol’s evolving artistic focus and his nuanced approach to universal themes like mortality. It stands as a compelling example of how Warhol continually challenged artistic norms and expanded the boundaries of Pop Art.

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