Andy Warhol was a flower child in his own right, known for saying, “I think everybody should like everybody,” But then again, as much as he instilled love and peace, he also had a morbid fascination with death, destruction and devastation. Warhol found beauty in the ugly (evident in his Death and Disaster series), but also found depth and darkness in seemingly beautiful things, which can be seen by looking closer at his Flowers series.
Andy Warhol’s Flowers series is a portfolio of ten screenprints based off of photographs taken by Patricia Caulfield, which were featured in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. While the flowers originate from realistic photographs (as did the majority of his images), Warhol altered his versions of the flowers, by flattening and cropping the flowers and adding vibrant, contrasting colors.
Caulfield saw the initial prints and took legal action against Warhol. Warhol offered her a couple of prints in hopes of settling the dispute, but she denied the offer. They settled and in 1964 Warhol went on to exhibit his Flowers at the prominent Leo Castelli Gallery. In 1970, Warhol produced his Flowers portfolio, which is comprised of 10 prints, all with varying compositions.
While flowers typically produce pleasant, light-hearted associations, it has been said that Warhol’s flowers were subversive and more “menacing” than previous conceptions. His longtime assistant elucidated on Warhol’s Flowers as representing the more gritty aspects of the flower power movement, saying:
“When Warhol and that whole scene made Flowers, it reflected the urban, dark, death side of that whole (Flower Power) movement. And as decorative art, it’s pretty dense. There is a lot of depth in there.”
As he did in creating his prints and paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, Warhol has taken a rather innocuous image and has appropriated alternate associations, that are invited because of how familiar the subject is. While these flowers are bright and sunny, they are set against a dark and ambiguous backdrop, suggesting that the beauty of the flowers is not all that Warhol was aiming for.
The idea of the flower as being something beautiful, but whose beauty is ephemeral, is a theme to contemplate when viewing this commanding images of delicate flowers. As with Warhol himself, there is much more to be said about his flowers beyond their facades.