"Warhol’s concern about the death of entire species of animals fits neatly into the lexicon of untimely and unseemly ends that he repeatedly mused on during his long career. Bearing in mind the self-referential nature and frequent quotation of his own earlier work in much of the output of the 1980s, it does not take much of a leap to imagine Warhol making a connection between the suicides, car crashes, poisonings, executions, and pervasive threat of nuclear annihilation of the 1960s and the tragic plight of Vanishing Animals in the 1980s. After all, extinction is just another variety of death, and one gets the sense that Warhol was sensitized to care equally for man and beast.
In Vanishing Animals, it is a stretch to infer a break in Warhol’s ennui and to read a more overt empathy here than in the purportedly emotionless and disconnected paintings of the 1960s? Possibly. Most are in agreement that behind all the posturing and statements, the notionally disinterested, passive painting machine cared, and cared deeply. We also know that Warhol kept cats during the 1950s and 1960s, and that the dogs Archie and Amos were his four-legged studio companions during the 1970s and 1980s. So empathy and compassion for the subject matter, yes – but anything approaching a political commitment, probably not.
Butterflies, monkeys, cats, and dogs were staples of Warhol’s visual vocabulary of the 1950s and 1980s. During both periods, drawings often relate to book projects or commercial work. In this case, the Vanishing Animals drawings are connected to a book project undertaken to highlight the issue of animal extinction and to inspire people to take action. Along with Kurt Benirschke, the former director of research at the San Diego Zoo, the artist selected sixteen species of animals, with Warhol contributing visuals and Benirschke the texts. (1)
As was his practice, Warhol projected the images onto paper and painted the outline of the subject in synthetic polymer with a small brush. In these and other works from this period, evidence is really apparent of his renewed interest in “hand painting”, referring back to his hand-painted pop paintings of 1960-1961- The virtuosity of Warhol’s draftsmanship and consciously artless artfulness is there to see. Every gesture and move from the artist’s repertoire are present; the elegantly sinuous passages of brushwork coexist alongside stuttered and agitated scumbles, not to mention the wonderfully artful drips. Warhol’s preference for outline and profile is evident too, though shadow is minimized."
(1) Andy Warhol and Kurt Benirschke, Vanishing Animals (New York: Springer Verlag, 1986).
'Andy Warhol - Vanishing Animals' Exhibition Catalogue text, by Fergus McCaffrey (2006)
This catalogue accompanied the exhibition Andy Warhol - Vanishing Animals, presented at Me.di.um, Saint Barthélemy, French West Indies, January 7 – February 25, 2006
Me.di.um was an integrated artist residency and contemporary art gallery founded in 2005 by Marc Jancou and Fergus McCaffrey in Saint Barthélemy. Inspired by the spectacular beauty of the French West Indies and the legacy of artists working on the islands, Me.di.um hoested exhibitions by established and emerging artists.