It’s Electric! Warhol’s “Chair”

Hello fellow art explorers! This week we have a guest writer, my friend Ingrid. She has a blog of her own, Manifaustin, which I’d invite you check out. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with some insights gleaned from my upcoming visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Ladies and gents, here’s Ingrid:

Who creates ten different versions of the same work of art?  Well, lots of artists actually do that (those darn artists—never satisfied with their work!).  But there’s something different about Warhol’s Big Electric Chair (and the other, smaller electric chairs, also part of the series): each one is intentionally different.  Each piece depicts an empty electric chair in an empty room, rendered in only two or three colors; but each version uses a different color combination from the others.  Look at the examples below.  Really look at them.  Think about them.  Then, if you please, read on…

I encountered two of these in the Menil museum in Houston.  They are huge.  I was first struck by the grandeur and desolation of the red and gray, which remains, to this day, my favorite combination.  Despite the fact that this particular method of execution is meant to be dry, this painting is splashed with blood.  Blood streaks the chair, splashes the floor, and coats the walls.  It is smeared in places, as if the hands of the executioners have dragged through it, suggesting the popular metaphor of having “blood on one’s hands”.  It seeps into the cracks between the floorboards, creating rivulets to hell that the janitor can never clean.  And yet there is little action to the painting.  This painting takes place after the action, after the spark.  It is as dead as the person whose blood has been poured all over it.
On the other hand, there is this version…
The colors are shocking, almost happy.  They are…electric.  But there is something unsettling about such gleeful colors being used to depict such a macabre object, such a dark moment.  Nobody uses pink and yellow to electrocute prisoners.  There is no gum-chewing, no cotton candy for sale at the event.  Electrocution is not a carnival.  So why does Warhol paint it as one?
I believe that this artwork is mockery.  Warhol was known to be against the death penalty, and these pieces were a part of his protest.  This painting seems to suggest a Bacchanalian decadence to the act.  To me, it says, “Execution is not justice!  It is no more than gross voyeurism!”.  Of course, I don’t doubt that I project my own feelings onto the art I love.  That is part of what it means to appreciate and respond to art.
And perhaps that is another reason that Warhol did so many works on the same subject.  Each painting could be an attempt to reach a different audience, express a different aspect of his emotions.
How about you dear reader?  Wander about the works below, then hit the comments to tell us how you responded to different versions and why…

Please share your thoughts! I read and approve each comment before it is posted to the site, primarily during my kids' nap time. Please be patient if it takes a bit of time for your contribution to the conversation to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s