Andy Warhol’s Wayne Gretzky 306 (Trial Proof) is a 1984 screenprint starring “The Great One” of the National Hockey League: Wayne Gretzky. Although Gretzky’s legacy as a four-time Stanley Cup and record-breaking sports sorcerer solidified him as one of the best hockey players of all-time, his Canadian heritage made him the pride and joy of British Columbia’s national athlete roster. In fact, his roots as a Canadian are what connected him with Warhol to begin with, when Frans Wynans, Canadian gallerist and art dealer, first suggested the collaboration to Warhol in hopes of expanding a client’s portfolio of works centered on Canada’s most notable citizens, which had been fairly limited to a group of landscape painters called The Group of Seven. The idea fell close in line with Warhol’s interests, especially after his 1977 portfolio Athletes, and resulted in the Wayne Gretzky prints.
Wayne Gretzky 306 (Trial Proof) captures the youth of a budding hockey icon with an electrifying, Warholian flair. The Edmonton Oilers representative’s soft, doe-like eyes contrast with the collage of bright overlays that showcase Gretzky’s iconic #99 and his Excalibur: the hockey stick. Actually, the prop was not really his. On the day of the photoshoot, Gretzky was three hours late due to traffic, leaving Warhol to wonder if he had been stood up, and arriving without his hockey stick. Lucky for everyone, a sports shop across the street had hockey sticks in stock, and Gretzky print was saved.
To Andy, Wayne Gretzky was “…more than a hockey player, he’s an entertainer.” Having begun his remarkable career as a commercial artist, Warhol’s background informed his interest in reproducing images of popular items and celebrities to bolster his own success. Andy Warhol’s artistic focus, once centered on Hollywood film icons like Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, naturally gravitated towards athletes as modern media elevated sports personalities to new heights of celebrity. Employing his iconic style, the Father of Pop Art ingeniously captured these emerging idols as visually consumable products, leaving an indelible mark on the intersection of sports and fame. The unique connection between Andy Warhol and Wayne Gretzky underscores this evolution, as their collaboration captured the essence of a cultural shift in society’s perception of sports icons. Through his love of popular culture, Andy Warhol spoke to society in its own language, forged a novel realm of celebrity status, and redefined the meaning of art.
Wayne Gretzky with Andy Warhol, after the unveiling of his portrait in 1984. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of AP Images.
Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky, left, poses with Andy Warhol and Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, after Warhol unveiled his portrait of Gretzky. Photo by Mario Suriani. Courtesy of AP Images.