One of Andy Warhol’s most iconic works is the series of Electric Chair screenprints. The morbid subject matter might seem incongruous for an artist known for his brightly-colored prints of movie stars, flowers and foods, but Warhol has always had a macabre streak running through his art.
Warhol’s first Electric Chair was painted in 1964 on canvas with silver acrylic paint that helped the details pop. The painting shows the fine detail of the chair and its straps in an empty room, with a small wooden table and a sign that says, “SILENCE”.
The painting is part of the Death and Disaster series Andy began to work on in 1962. Warhol became more interested in death and explored other tragic events in his Race Riot and Ambulance Disaster series.
When asked for the reason behind the series, which appalled the art world when it premiered, Warhol stated “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have an effect.” His series used images of violence from newspapers; things that people saw every day without noticing. Somehow, when blown up and presented as art, these images were seen as abhorrent – but Warhol meant the repetition of the images as a commentary on the American public’s desensitization to violence. The electric chair, subject of so much controversy and so many differing opinions, was the perfect image to choose to make his point.
In 1971 Warhol produced a series of ten more electric chairs on screen prints which are tightly closed in and focused on the chair using bolder colors such as orange, yellow and pink. A full suite of this series can be seen today at Revolver Gallery.