Though screen printing has a long history stretching back to China’s Song Dynasty, the technique only started to receive credibility and popularity in the 1960s when pop artist Andy Warhol introduced it to the masses. After studying commercial art at New York City’s Carnegie Institute in the 1950s, Warhol first began experimenting with photo screen printing techniques.
He went on to create his “blotted line technique,” a rudimentary form of printmaking. By applying ink to paper and blotting while still wet, Warhol was able to repeat a basic image with many variations on the same theme.
This basic process allowed the artist to create multiples, but not with the speed or preciseness he was looking for. In his pursuit of a printing technique that would better suit his needs, Warhol visited Max Arthur Cohn’s graphic arts business in Manhattan. Cohn, a pioneer of screenprints, taught silk screen printing techniques to a young Warhol. It was this technique that gave the artist the ability to create the works he is now most famous for.
200 One Dollar Bills, 1962
In 1962, Warhol created his first attempt at screenprinting with his 200 One Dollar Bills paintings. Produced using hand-cut stamps and a drawing, they unfortunately could not accurately recreate the sharp lines of real printed currency. When someone informed Warhol that he could use a photographic image as the basis of a silk screen print, the artist finally realized the full potential of the screen printing process.
Using a 1950s publicity photograph of Elizabeth Taylor, Warhol created Liz #1 in 1963. After choosing a photo, Warhol worked with professionals to have it transferred onto the mesh of a silk screen. Warhol then pushed ink through the mesh using a squeegee to impress a print of the image onto canvas. Using glue to cover the negative space of the image kept paint from passing through those areas of the screen.
Marilyn Monroe, 1962
Some of Warhol’s most iconic works were made using this technique. Three months after Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, Warhol created a series of portraits of the actress. Beginning with the same photograph to silk screen printing technique, Warhol followed that up with an overlay of contrasting colors in pastel shades, creating a mask-like effect.
Campbell’s Soup I, 1968
Still, Warhol continued his ongoing endeavor to be “like a machine.” When a friend suggested he paint something everybody recognized, Warhol veered away from pop icons and towards something more mundane — Campbell’s soup cans. By tracing projections of the cans onto canvas and hand painting, then using the screen printing technique to create multiples, this series achieved the level of detailed uniformity that Warhol had been seeking.
Along with Van Gogh and Picasso, Warhol is one of the best represented artists on the list of most expensive paintings ever sold at auction. In 2013, Sotheby’s auctioned the most expensive Warhol print ever sold, Car Crash (Double Disaster), for $105.4M. The artist is often referred to as a “one man market” for several reasons.
Warhol’s studio, aptly nicknamed “The Factory,” produced over 10,000 works between 1961 and 1987. In addition to the massive volume of work he produced, Warhol never limited himself to just one or two mediums. In order to challenge the notion of what “pop art” could be, Warhol experimented with print, painting, sculpture, drawing, collage and film.
Because of the variety in medium, the market for Warhol’s work includes many different price points. This allows a diverse group of buyers to participate in the collection of Warhol’s works.
If you are in the market for a work by Warhol, there are several factors to consider when evaluating the work and its price point. Like most other fine art at auction, the rarity of the piece and aesthetic issues such as clarity of the image, color intensity and size of the work should all be considered. But the biggest deciding factor for the price of a Warhol piece is the subject matter. For example, his works depicting Marilyn Monroe remain the most sought after.
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