This portrait is one of a pair of works based on a Polaroid photograph taken by Warhol of the artist Man Ray (1890–1976), a central figure in the dada and surrealist movements. The second work, which is the same size and has the same title, is Tate AR00039.
The photograph was taken on 30 November 1973 in Paris, where Man Ray lived. An audiotape recording of the modelling session attests that Warhol specifically requested Man Ray to hold his cigar in his mouth, remove his glasses, and keep his hands away from his face (Goldsmith, Wolf and Koestenbaum 2004, p.235). The painting and its pair were made in 1974 in Warhol’s New York studio, known as the Factory, on unstretched canvas that had been rolled out flat on the studio floor. One of Warhol’s assistants, Rupert Smith, helped the artist with screen-printing. This work shows Man Ray with a blue jacket against a deep red background, while its pair shows the jacket as predominantly yellow against a green background. There are several places where these colours blur together and overlap, serving variously to obscure and emphasise facial details. Following the screen-printing process, Warhol made additions by hand using broad paintbrushes that have left the surface of both canvases swathed in thick, visible brush strokes.
Although the majority of Warhol’s portraits from this time were commissions and featured the rich and famous, he also made non-commissioned portraits of fellow artists for whom he had great respect. In a self-recorded video diary made in 1976 Warhol claimed that he ‘only really loved him [Man Ray] for his name, to be truthful … his name was the best thing about him’ (Goldsmith, Wolf and Koestenbaum 2004, p.231), though other evidence suggests that Warhol had admired Man Ray for a long time. In the early years of his career Warhol collected Man Ray’s photographs and prints, and the older artist’s painting Peinture feminine 1954 (private collection) was hung prominently in the sitting room of Warhol’s New York townhouse.
The heavily worked brushstrokes in Man Ray indicate that Warhol spent some time and energy perfecting it, and are similar to those visible in portraits of his mother, for example Julia Warhola 1974 (Leo Castelli Gallery, New York). The critic and art historian Carter Ratcliff has argued that this unusual formal feature attests to the importance Warhol placed on this work and the ‘convincing emotion’ he felt toward the subject (Ratcliff 1983, p.72).
Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York 1983, reproduced p.167.
Kenneth Goldsmith, Reva Wolf and Wayne Koestenbaum, I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews: 1962–1987, New York 2004, pp.229–32.