Bighorn Ram 302 by Andy Warhol is the last of ten works in the Endangered Species complete portfolio from 1983. Warhol often referred to this series as his “animals in makeup,” immortalizing the ten species in the Pop Art canon. Endangered Species was commissioned by gallerists Ronald and Frayda Feldman (who are also known as environmental activists) in order to increase consciousness of threatened animal populations and habitat destruction.
In Bighorn Ram 302, Warhol closes his series with a depiction of a particularly captivating example of the bighorn sheep, a native of the Western half of the United States. The ram highlighted is a male, as the species shows a strong sexual dimorphism in regards to the curvature of their distinctive horns. Though considered endangered during Warhol’s time—the designation of which was bolstered by the passing of the Endangered Species Act of 1973—bighorn sheep are now considered of “least concern” as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, a database for the chronicling of the conservation status for species worldwide. This seems to be the result of many concerted conservation efforts in the US and the setting aside of federal land, especially in the mid-twentieth century. Bighorn Ram 302 rounds out the American representation present in the series, which also includes Pine Barrens Tree Frog, Bald Eagle, and San Francisco Silver Spot.
Andy Warhol’s depiction of the Bighorn Ram may be the most understated piece in the series; there are no strong, contrasting colors. No potent punches of vibrancy bordering on neon. Instead, the ram is draped in pretty muted shades, and with an unassuming off-white background to boot. Like some of the other animals of Endangered Species, a deep blue plays a central role, covering the bulk of the ram’s body, with the notable exception of its large curved horns and the tip of its muzzle. The former features a moderate lime green but not one that stands out much more than the blue, inundated as it is with much shadow. The latter offers a striking yellow, fighting with the majesty of the horns for attention. Additionally, the ram is covered in an hand-drawn outline that recounts many of the features on display: the soft convolutions of the horns, the tufts of hair on its chest and below its eye, and its nose and mouth.
Bighorn Ram 302 is undoubtedly a Warhol masterpiece, indicative of the artist’s 1980s work. In the decade, Warhol’s artistic peak blossomed after decades of honing his screenprinting, layering, and color dodging techniques. The Endangered Species series is one of Warhol’s most beloved works, and has become especially adored in recent years by fine art collectors everywhere.
Photograph of Warhol with Endangered Species screen prints taken by Brownie Harris, 1982, The Factory, NYC.