Warhol at the Whitney - The Flower Room
Authored by Adrian Ormsby
Continuing on the theme of the Flowers, after the epiphany that it is all about COLOUR, its so
easy to gloss over these images without too much additional thought and carry on to the next
room in the exhibit (actually most people didn’t spend more than 10-15 seconds in this room,
perhaps they were put off by this old guy snapping photographs and posing in front of one of
the images). As you slow down, look around and resist the urge to see what other great treats
await, however, you get this sense that Warhol is telling us much more about these massive,
First, you get an introduction to his use of the Photo-silkscreen. A critical technology that would
literally change the face of Contemporary Art in the 1960’s. As you get close to these
hyper-inflated images (I closed in on the big purple flower) you start to see the granular nature
of the photo image itself, a quasi-pixilation, if you will, that would anticipate our digital age
where we encounter the pixel on a day to day basis, ad-nauseum, not giving it another
thought.(image) Warhol would actively disrupt that oversight by making it centre stage in these
huge images, as you see in the grains at the centre of the purple flower, that give us the
visual cue to the four petals of the flower. The use of massive scale makes this very obvious,
another good reason for the BIG of Pop Art. Big is not just beautiful but it tells us something
that we would not see without the massive scale. For instance, when do you ever see flowers
so big, except in Jurassic World or in 1960’s Science Fiction movies (I wonder where they got
that idea from?).
Not only would this teach us about the core nature of the black and white photograph as a
vernacular medium (black and white photographs in the 1960’s formed the backbone of print
media culture of that time e.g. Daily Newspaper, Life Magazine etc), but just like Roy
Lichtenstein’s use of the Ben Day dot to bring to our awareness the presence and use of this
fundamental printing device, Warhol would also direct our attention to this key technical
property of the humble black and white photograph.
This point became even more obvious as I saw the plain black and white flower combination, devoid of any distraction by the use of bold colour. As an observer of these flowers for
over 4 decades now, I had seen these seemingly “boring” black and white flowers before, but
failed to make the vital connection between Warhol’s emphasis on the fundamental basis of
the photo silkscreen technique itself. Thank you once again to the Whitney for helping me
understand this core feature of Warhol Pop Art.
As one spends more time in the “flower room” (my characterisation of this space, for want of a
better description) you begin to encounter multiple combinations of colour. First combination is
the one colour in all 4 flowers, be it red, pink, orange, light blue, with or without green
colouring to the background foliage. Next combinations are 3 flowers in one colour and the 4th in a
different colour, such as, 3 orange and 1 red (image) and then two flowers in the same colour and
the two other flowers in different colours, e.g., 2 orange, 1 purple and 1 blue (image). Getting
bewildering I know.
So what’s with all the colour combinations? I guess that’s Andy’s point, by placing contrasting
colours next to one another in different combinations, 1 colour, 2 colours and finally 3 colours, it
focuses our attention with even more acuity on the use of BIG, BOLD colour in Pop Art. A simple
but very clever and elegant visual device when you think about it. Andy was right when he said
that these Flowers would cure you of your winter blues.
It’s this abundant and extravagant use of colour that Warhol would develop along with the other
Pop Artists (just look at Wesselman, Rosenquist and Lichtenstein) that would become a
hallmark of the time and I would argue persists to this day in popular culture. As a keen
observer of Graffiti and Street Art, for example, I see the same use of big and bold colour in cities
all over the world. Thank you Andy Warhol and the Pop Artists.
Well, after this immersive experience in Warhol colour, before I become totally colour blind, I’d
best move on to the next room in the exhibit which takes us back to Warhol’s critical art of the
1950’s, including his foray in to the cut throat world of advertising and marketing. A period
often overlooked, under-appreciated and simply not thought about enough. So you can take off
your sun glasses after the glare of the Flower Room and put on our thinking caps because
nothing comes easy with Warhol and Pop Art.