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Andy Warhol Chairman Mao Series

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In 1972, Andy Warhol found a new face to glorify in art, that of Chairman Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Warhol chose to use the portrait on Mao’s famous book titled The Thoughts of Chairman Mao. Mao’s picture hung almost everywhere in China, on houses, stores, and government offices. The artist, in his own true fashion, was likening Mao’s political propaganda to the more western ideas of advertising. In his Chairman Mao series, Warhol’s irreverent attitude toward his subject is blatantly obvious from his choice of colors and techniques. There are flamboyant splashes of color on Mao’s clothing, and his facial features are highlighted by graffiti-like makeup.

The motive behind the Chairman Mao series
Although it is always difficult to determine an artist’s motives behind their creations, there have been various speculations as to why Andy Warhol chose to represent Mao in a series of silkscreens. Undoubtedly, Warhol was initially drawn to Mao as a subject because of the tremendous media attention surrounding him. Moreover, Warhol had a penchant toward representing popular characters that were shrouded in mystery and tragedy. His Marilyns and Jackies are prime examples - both were inscrutable and charismatic beings that captivated the attention of not only North America, but the world. Chairman Mao possessed this same enigmatic character. He was both revered and abhorred by the people, and held the future of a nation in the palm of his hand.

When we examine Warhol’s repertoire of work, we see that he often combined art and commercialism. His Marilyns and Jackies emitted a glamorous human trait indeed, but these celebrities were nonetheless represented as commodities, just as Campbell’s soup and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were. Therefore, creating such a silkscreen of Chairman Mao can be equated to transforming him into a commodity, which is inherently ironic due to the fact that Mao was a socialist and vehemently opposed to consumerism. Is it not like waving a sword underneath the nose of the enemy? One could argue that Warhol’s Mao series makes a powerful statement, seemingly championing America’s fearlessness and supremacy.

Many deem Chairman Mao’s reign as a very tragic time in history. His reputation being that he was responsible for millions of deaths may have been the lure that captured the attention of the death-obsessed Warhol, convincing him to choose Mao as a subject.

 

 

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