- A recount of a dialogue with Andy after the assassination atempt from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.
In the early sixties Warhol became deeply interested in death. Searching for new material Warhol serched the media and became fascinated by pictures of electric chairs, car crashes, and race riots. As a result he created the Death in America series, and the viewers were shocked. Warhol blatantly depicted death over and over again shown off centered, layered, or ripped down the middle, and thought the photos were shocking they were also strangely compelling. On first viewing one searches the black image of the car crashes to find the bodies but once the mangled limbs come into view, it is impossible not to see them again whenever the image reappears. Like the crowd around a jumper, the viewers of Warhol's series were strangely captivated in a mixture of horror and curiosity. In contrast most modernist depictions of death, such as Picasso's La Vie, are depicted by symbolism and the actual act or aftermath is never shown. Warhol, however, left nothing to the imagination.
Part of the reason Warhol decided to create the series was his own confusion over death. Warhol often talked of death as though it were simply a state of non-being, where there was no sensory stimuli what so ever and the connection between the proliferation of images in Pop Art and desensitization was not lost on him. Instead of complicated symbolism and deeper meaning behind death, Pop Art reflected the images of America and the meaning that is left came directly from the interpretation of the viewer, who was being desensitized to the image with every repetition in Warhol's exhibit. As Andy put it, "the more you look at the exact same thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel."
Warhol did not just have problems with death as a concept, he also had a fear of it physically, and consequently he was afraid of hospitals. So he was deeply affected when he was shot on June 3rd 1968 by Valerie Solanis and nearly died. Somehow, Warhol managed to pull through and slowly recovered, but his meditations on death had changed. Instead of the more shocking photos of the early 60's Warhol took the concept of death to a more theoretical abstract level and considered mortality and philosophy more, almost as if the shooting had assured him of his own reality. His paintings of the time after his recovery were his Guns, Knives, Crosses, and Skulls. This philosophical side was particularly strong in the Skulls series, which, besides the obvious Hamlet reference, also showed how Warhol was pondering mortality by the inclusion of himself in several skull portraits.
Both periods covering death in America and Warhol's more morbid thoughts contributed enormously to the desensitization message of Pop Art as they were by far some of the most powerful images he reproduced.