Wayne Gretzky 306 by Andy Warhol is a screenprint of the famous Canadian hockey player, published in 1984. In this piece, Warhol depicts “The Great One” looking greater than ever. Still considered one of the best in NHL history, the hall-of-famer is a four-time Stanley cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers and broke countless records over the course of his astounding career. He is amongst many other sports stars and athletes Warhol painted, such as Muhammad Ali.
Like Warhol, Gretzky found his art form as a young man, and mastered it like no other. The project came to life when Canadian gallerist and art consultant Frans Wynans commissioned Warhol on behalf of a client keen on collecting works of Canada’s finest, but largely confined to a selection of works from The Group of 7, a group of landscape painters from the earlier half of the 20th century. Warhol’s collaboration with Gretzky brought greater significance to the new superstar of British Columbia and further established the genesis of the sports superstar, following Warhol’s creation of the Athletes portfolio in 1977.
Wayne Gretzky 306 is a collage-like assembly of #99’s profile, capturing the youthfulness and burgeoning talent of the player, only just beginning his remarkable journey. Bleeding bright color and neon, simple lines juxtapose an attention-grabbing composition with the softness of Gretzky’s expression. By chance, the player holds a hockey stick as a prop—Gretzky showed up at Warhol’s factory for the photo shoot over three hours late due to traffic, and arrived without his gear. Serendipitously, a sports store located conveniently across the street had the picture-perfect prop for sale, and Gretzky’s tool of choice made the cut.
As Warhol said in a 1983 interview with CBC, “He’s more than a hockey player, he’s an entertainer.” While working with Athletes like Gretzky, the Pop artist’s musings on the nature of A-listers shifted away from the prototype of the Hollywood film star. Having begun his career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol maintained his early mindset while developing his bravos in the world of high art, and effectively capitalized on a growing interest in athletes, merging it with our obsession for “traditional celebs.” By exploring the connections between mass-appeal culture, advertisement, and art, Warhol not only attracted a vast audience, but redefined the meaning of art, and the way we viewed athletes at the time.
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