Andy Warhol could easily have drawn hibiscus flowers, made a silkscreen and hung it at his first exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery at the end of 1964. He could have, but he didn’t.
For Flowers, Warhol appropriated a photo of hibiscus flowers from the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. The photos were taken by Patricia Caulfield, the executive editor of Modern Photography. Caulfield threatened to sue Warhol, was offered, but declined, two sets of Flowers silkscreens, and agreed to a cash settlement instead.
For the Castelli exhibition, Warhol changed the colors and contrasts of the original photos and had them printed in square formats, ranging in size from 24 inches to 60 inches. Some of the Flowers lithographs were reportedly given to visitors during the exhibition.
Warhol had a second exhibition of Flowers at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, in Paris, in 1965.
I always notice flowers.” —Andy Warhol
After the Flowers exhibition, Warhol threatened to retire from the art scene. Because of, or in spite of, the threat of a lawsuit by Modern Photography, he bought a camera and began taking his own photographs.
He took a camera everywhere and the Warhol Foundation wound up with over 50,000 of his photographs. Many were donated to schools and museums by the foundation, many have been sold and are sought out by collectors and many remain unseen by the general public.
Some of Warhol’s most successful works were done from his own photographs and many of the photos themselves stand alone as works of art and historical record.
Continuing to push the envelope, Warhol made films like Sleep, that consisted of five hours and 20 minutes of his friend, John Giorno, sleeping and Empire, which was eight hours of footage of the Empire State building.
Why Warhol went from painting Death and Destruction to Flowers is anyone’s guess. Although he established Interview magazine in 1969, which is still in publication today, Warhol himself was not an easy interview nor was he forthcoming about his art.
In 1977, Warhol did a 90-minute interview with Glenn O’Brien, the editor of Warhol’s own Interview magazine, that went like this:
GLENN O’BRIEN: What was your first work of art?
ANDY WARHOL: I used to cut out paper dolls.
GO: How old were you?
GO: Did you get good grades in art in school?
AW: Yeah, I did. The teachers liked me. In grade school, they make you copy pictures from books. I think the first one was Robert Louis Stevenson.
GO: Did they say you had natural talent?
AW: Something like that. Unnatural talent.
GO: Were you arty in high school?
AW: I was always sick, so I was going to summer school and trying to catch up. I had one art class.
GO: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
AW: I didn’t do anything for fun. I think maybe once I went down to see a Frank Sinatra personal appearance with Tommy Dorsey.
Warhol was eccentric, sometimes difficult, and one of America’s finest artists.
I just do art because I’m ugly and there’s nothing else for me to do.” —Andy Warhol