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courtesy of Cardi Gallery/Joshua White

Andy Warhol: Knives and Shadows paintings at the Cardi Gallery

31 May 2017 Nina Avramova

Mayfair’s Cardi Gallery is currently displaying a selection of Andy Warhol’s lesser known, and more philosophical, artworks in an exhibition that comes highly recommended.

The ground floor of the Cardi Gallery is entirely dedicated to Warhol’s Shadows installation and several of his Knife paintings. Created between 1978 and 1979, these artworks come from the period that followed an attempt on Warhol’s life by Valerie Solanas, the 1960s radical feminist and author who starred in his film I, a man.
 
Shadows is a vast body of work, of which only 14 pieces can be seen at the Cardi Gallery, and in true Warholian style the paintings contain repetition and bright pop art hues. The work stems from several photographs of two pieces of cardboard, positioned in Warhol’s studio and photographed at varying light levels. Warhol then transferred one of these images onto 102 uniquely coloured canvases using the silkscreen technique. How many of the 102 creations are exhibited at any one time depends entirely on the gallery, with the Guggenheim’s 2016 exhibition of Shadows presenting all 102 abstract works.
 
The background of each canvas was painted with nothing more than a mop - leaving some faintly visible streaks. By placing all the Shadows paintings in a cluster it highlights the fact that, although Warhol repeated the same image on each canvas, every single composition is unique. The change of colour on each canvas completely transforms the image.


Image courtesy of Cardi Gallery/Artnet
 
The top four canvases all feature black in combination with red; yellow; yellow and pink; and white. The shadows are dipped in colour, creating the illusion of two sharp objects, whilst each colour combination conjures different emotions from the viewer – the yellow and black combination evoking calmness. In another, Warhol couples beige and light pink – the light hues almost making the edges disappear and creating a drastically different composition than that of the other canvases.
 
Natural light is also crucial component of Shadows, and each image is transformed depending on which of the two shadows is brought to the fore. These distinctions re-enforce the idea of each canvas as an original creation whilst also engaging, and responding to, the viewer’s perception - something Warhol always considered paramount in art.
 

Image courtesy of Cardi Gallery/Artnet

Knife, the second series in the exhibition, portrays a common daily object in the vein of Campbell’s Soup Cans – however in this instance Warhol focuses on a kitchen knife. The series has been just as successful, with a later Knife painting – completed in 1982 – being auctioned off at US$3.2 million.
 
Unlike the shock-infused Death and Disaster series Warhol composed during the 1960s, the Knife paintings are a subtler, and more personal, exploration of death. The famous pop art pioneer suffered a fear of hospitals and death throughout his life, though Death and Disaster – featuring brightly painted car accidents, riots and electric chairs – represented death in a distant movie-like way. After being shot by Solanas, in June 1968, Warhol’s art began to show the trauma he had experienced through more realistic representations of death, and an increasingly frequent use of guns, knives, crosses and skulls.
 
The entirely black and white Knife series transforms a banal kitchen utensil into a reminder of our mortality and the concept of death. The colour palette and symbolism instil the viewer with metaphysical thoughts and leave behind an eerie feeling; the audience can taste Warhol’s confrontation with death. His contemplation of life’s fragility is highlighted by the absence of colour.
 
Andy Warhol – one of the top three traded artists since 2002, according to a 2009 Economist report – has definitely earned his reputation as the ‘prince of pop art’. His Shadows and Knife series, however, allow viewers to witness a different side to the quirky artist. Whilst Warhol was undoubtedly revolutionary in his imaginative and colourful pop art, he also produced very abstract, metaphysical work. The 102 canvases that constitute Shadows are a testament to the artist’s great dedication and desire to take viewers on a journey, seeing light and shadows in different spaces; Warhol’s Knife paintings are the result of an emotional trauma that affected his art. Both are absolutely worth a visit at the Cardi Gallery.

Andy Warhol: Knives and Shadows paintings is on at the Cardi Gallery until June 30. Entry is free.
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