Warhol made his first paintings of an electric chair in 1963, the year that saw the last executions in New York State until the death penalty was reinstated in the 1990s. He returned repeatedly to the image as, throughout the 1960s, the ethics of capital punishment were debated in America. Although the subject was provocative, Warhol’s image of the empty chair projects no clear moral stance.
Designed to make killing as efficient and impersonal as possible, the electric chair unites Warhol’s fascination with death and with mechanised production. Multiplied images of the chair suggest the mass-production of death. Like his paintings of car-crashes and suicides, the rich use of vivid colour is in striking contrast to the morbid subject-matter.