The Backstory Behind Andy Warhol’s Iconic “Flowers”
Having recently acquired a rare Andy Warhol Flowers rug, we felt it made sense to pay homage and tell the story behind “Flowers”.
In 1964, the famed artist Any Warhol took his work in an entirely new direction. The artist started out doing silkscreens of Campbell’s Soup and Marilyn Monroe, but his new project shook the Pop Art Movement and caused critics to raise their eyebrows. Warhol’s “Flowers” series took the art world by surprise, and it continues to make an impact today.
Though Warhol’s floral project seemed worlds apart from his “Thirteen Most Wanted Men” series, which included silkscreens of NYPD mug shots from 1962, “Flowers” made a lasting impression. While the springtime series seems fitting with his work in retrospect, it made quite a splash back in the day. The “Thirteen Most Wanted Men” series was censored and never exhibited at the New York Art Fair for which it was created.
Warhol’s new project didn’t just leave critics scratching their heads; it caused quite the controversy and landed the artist his very first lawsuit. Warhol did not venture out into the great outdoors to paint his beautiful flowers from what he observed in nature. The artist admitted to using a Patricia Caulfield photograph of hibiscus blossoms that he garnered from a 1964 issue of Modern Photography. In 1966, the photographer of the hibiscus, Patricia Caulfield, sued Warhol. After earning a living from making reputable brands the subject of his art with no consequences, a simple bunch of flowers opened up a lawsuit.
The irony of Warhol’s floral project transcends beyond the lawsuit. The sheer fact that he used silkscreen printing, a mechanical art style typically only used for commercial art, to paint a subject so natural and delicate, creates an interesting paradox, setting Warhol’s flowers apart from the floral creations of other artists. It’s this juxtaposition that makes “Flowers” one of Warhol’s most unique and best works, and the reason that it still captures attention today. Warhol could have done these prints in a different style, but his dedication to his signature style and his background in advertisement likely influenced his decision.
The iconic Andy Warhol Flowers made its debut in 1964 in the Leo Castello gallery in New York. Warhol was a master experimenter and an excellent silkscreen artist. He varied his prints; many shades of vibrant blooms sit nestled in a bed of grass, creating playful pictures that are full of life and reminiscent of springtime. “Flowers” may have been out of character for Warhol, but floral patterns were no doubt contemporary with 1960’s fashion trends. Warhol had an interest in fashion, and floral prints have remained timeless and in-style well into our modern era. According to Michael Lobel, Warhol’s “Flowers” series was well-aligned with the trends of the 1960’s, as he writes in his essay, “In Transition: Warhol’s Flowers.”
When “Flowers” hit the public sphere, it was received as strikingly different from his previous work with commercial brands. Warhol was able to capture iconic moments in time through his work; he froze moments with his talent in a way that mere photographs never could. The public loved his work, and pieces like his Campbell’s Soup silkscreens are forever icons of the era. “Flowers” is different; the subject never goes out of style, it’s classic, timeless and there is no particular culture, movement, or place in time connected to it. Critics couldn’t label his work; they couldn’t name it, making this series his most frustrating and intriguing yet.
Lobel details in his essay the controversy that these seemingly simple flowers stirred up. Everyone had a different opinion about which type of flowers were depicted in Warhol’s prints. The New York Herald Tribune claimed them to be anemones. Another source called them nasturtium, and others cried pansies. This controversy only added to the appeal and mystery of the artist’s new and unusual work. Warhol wanted to create something that was simultaneously infused with meaning and devoid of it. The viewer could ascribe their own feelings and thoughts to the flowers, rather than observe a prefixed representation of a brand.
Warhol was a fan of repeating images. He urged people to take a closer look at their surroundings. Although the artist gained his inspiration from photographs, his one of a kind series inspires us to take time out of our busy schedules this spring and experience nature in all its colors and patterns. It’s a reminder of the cross cultural beauty of flowers, their versatility, and their timelessness.
An even more simplified take on “Flowers” was produced by Warhol twenty years later. The artist revisited the controversial, puzzling subject in his “Daisy” series. A single daisy is the subject of each print, with fewer special effects than the prints of the “Flowers” series. Though “Daisy” may be far more subtle, the same inspiration that gave the world “Flowers” is no doubt at work in this series. Vibrant enough to stand out, yet universal enough to touch people worldwide, Warhol’s “Flowers” series continues to be a sensation across time and around the world.