Self-Portrait (Strangulation) comprises six silk-screened canvases assembled in a vertical grid of three pairs, each silk-screened in vertical bands of pink, red, yellow, blue, and grey. Horizontal smears of paint are also apparent across the surface of each canvas. The single monochrome panel, placed on the left side of the central row, is dark-toned, painted with shades of grey that partially obscure the image of Warhol’s face as he undergoes ‘self-strangulation’.

The six canvases were made in Warhol’s New York studio, known as the Factory, on unstretched canvas, rolled out flat on the studio floor. For these works Warhol used photo-silkscreens and employed an assistant named Rupert Smith to help with screen-printing. Synthetic polymer paint, a fast drying alternative to oil paint, was used as the background onto which the image was screen-printed.

The work is both ambiguous and ironic. The subject matter – death by strangulation – might be compared with Warhol’s Death and Disaster series of 1962–3 in which he enlarged and displayed images of violence, notably car crashes or press photographs of police dogs attacking protestors. However, the images here suggest a staged and potentially comical act, similar in concept to the earlier self-relating work Self-Portrait (Being Punched) 1963–6 (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh).

Warhol famously proclaimed that ‘in the future, everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes’ but lived with the pressures of celebrity life in the public imagination for much of his career. This peaked when on 3 June 1968 Valerie Solanis, a part-time extra in Warhol’s films, appeared at The Factory and shot him. Although he survived, the near-death experience had a profound effect on Warhol and the theme of his own mortality featured prominently – even if sometimes facetiously – in much of his late work (see, for example, Self-Portrait with Skull 1978, AR00610).

Further reading
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York 1977.
Kynaston McShine (ed.), Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1989.
Roland Waspe (ed.), Andy Warhol: Self Portraits, trans. by Bernhard Geyer and John S. Sutherland, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004.

Oliver Lurz
October 2011