Andy Warhol goes to work on an egg

As a new Tate exhibition will show, the godfather of Pop Art underwent a radical change of direction late in life. Andrew McCorkell reports

To the clueless, it looks like a few blobs of colour on a black background.

To the informed, it looks a bit like a Damien Hirst. But this silkscreen print is in fact by the Pop artist Andy Warhol, and is causing a stir among fans of his work.

Eggs, 1982 will show in Britain for the first time this autumn, as a star exhibit of The Indiscipline of Painting, a new show opening at Tate St Ives in October that also includes work by Gerhard Richter, Bernard Frize and Bridget Riley. Critics say it reveals a new side to the painter who made art out of Campbell's soup tins.

Warhol made his name and fortune with bright block prints depicting famous images, such as Marilyn Monroe, bottles of Coca-Cola, and tins of soup. But in later life he turned his back on Pop Art and began to explore abstraction, as this painting shows. There are calls for Warhol's reputation to be reappraised, as the picture shows he was not limited just to Pop Art. Critics say he was an "ethereal" influence on Hirst and other contemporary artists. Before his death in 1987, Warhol collaborated with a new wave of abstract artists, who encouraged him to keep painting.

In founding his New York City Factory studio to produce art on an almost industrial scale, Warhol courted a distinct set of musicians, celebrities, writers and artists. The art critic Brian Sewell said: "My impression is that Warhol is out there in some kind of ether, floating about with Rembrandt and Michelangelo rather than having any immediate influence."

Like Hirst, Warhol was fascinated by wealth, consumerism and mass marketing. For him this was encapsulated in his Dollar Sign prints, for Hirst in his sculpture to wealth, excess and death: the diamond-encrusted skull For the Love of God. Both sparked controversy, challenged conceptions of art and drew much criticism for doing so.

Melanie Gerlis, market editor for The Art Newspaper, said: "Warhol and Hirst both have 'wall power'; their works are brightly coloured and recognisable and they were both fascinated by mass marketing."

The Tate St Ives show includes 49 artists from the past 50 years and explores how abstraction has remained "urgent, relevant and critical" through reinvention by generations of painters.

Martin Clark, Tate artistic director, said: "It's the first time it has been shown in the UK and it's rarely been seen elsewhere. The Warhol Foundation is aware of 25 egg paintings, but so little is known."

Warhol reconsidered abstract art using imagery from the beginning of his career such as greetings cards, balls of string or camouflage. "They were about abstraction and colour field painting rather than the 1960s Pop and graphic imagery for which he is so well known," Mr Clark said.

Warhol was influenced by younger New York artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Peter Halley and Keith Haring, who were "really encouraging him to keep making paintings", added Mr Clark. "They all had this bright geometric style – abstract painting was big in the 1980s. When he started out he was illustrating butterflies, cats and these eggs, which he took from a greetings card. Before he died, Warhol was reinvestigating everything he had reacted against in the 1950s. But he found a Warhol way of making sense of it."

Comments