The Witch 261 is a print by Andy Warhol created in 1981 for the Myths series. Enthralled by the aesthetics of American popular culture, Warhol produced a remarkable number of artworks centered around Hollywood fame, from commissioned portraits to appropriated images of celebrities. While his obsession with celebrity culture endured, his subject matter expanded over the years to include athletes (who he called the “movie stars” of the 70s), politicians, and fictional characters. The Myths portfolio spotlights ten of the most iconic fictional characters since the turn of the 20th century. Some fight for the good of humanity as stalwart heroes; others cause mayhem as uncompromising villains. Though these figures may only exist in our imaginations, our most beloved bedtime stories, and favorite animated films, they altered the history of entertainment as prominent symbols of childhood nostalgia and manufactured dreams.
The Witch 261 depicts a woman with vibrant green skin dressed entirely in black. The source material for some of Warhol’s Myths prints were Polaroid portraits of people in costumes and makeup. The artist called upon Margaret Hamilton herself, the actress who portrayed the witch in the original 1931 film The Wizard of Oz, to recreate her pose for the basis of the print. Contrasting with the less-animated expressions of Uncle Sam and The Star, the Witch’s lips are curled back in a maniacal laugh. The plain purple background complements her lurid green complexion; additional traces of red and green outline her wide-brimmed hat and dark clothing, a technique Warhol used frequently to highlight the subject of his prints. The Witch 261 is inlaid with diamond dust, tiny crystals that further enhance the artwork’s value and glamor.
Ostensibly, each print in the Myths series represents a unique facet of Warhol’s birthday. The Witch 261 showcases the notorious Wicked Witch of the West, the most frightening ruler in all of Oz—a power-hungry sorcerer with a flair for the dramatic, who commands an army of flying monkeys and has an unusual intolerance to water. Warhol never explicitly stated his reason for including the witch in his Myths collection, though many believe his decisions were deliberate and meaningful. We can look upon the Myths series as a sort of introspective collection. They inform us on the way Warhol viewed himself in connection with the world around him.
Photo credit: Postcard for Andy Warhol: Myths, 1981, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, screenprints, polaroids, photographs and source material of Warhol’s at the Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 2000. Front of card features a picture of Andy Warhol and Margaret Hamilton at The Factory for ‘Myths’ portfolio.