Warhol-inspired artist takes another look at celebrity

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When Andy Warhol lured the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Salvador Dali and Alan Ginsberg to sit, immobile, in front of his camera, the result was the Screen Test series of films, which sparked admiration and outrage in equal measure.

The films also inspired Peter Gidal, an up-and-coming British artist, to use the same technique to capture the London scene. He enlisted some of the country's most celebrated personalities, plus visiting stars, to sit before his camera and do precisely nothing for three minutes.

Gidal's finished film, Heads, features the faces, uncomfortable and often bewildered, of Francis Bacon, Pete Townshend, Marianne Faithfull, David Hockney, Charlie Watts, Richard Hamilton and Thelonious Monk.

Now, for the first time since the 1960s, the National Portrait Gallery will bring together Screen Tests and Gidal's work as part of Pop Art Portraits, in which parallels between American and British artists are explored.

Gidal said that it was only after seeing Warhol's works that he became inspired by celebrity subjects. "I wanted to show that they may be stars but when you look at their faces, they become just another face. It was an attempt at equalisation."

He told his subjects to gaze into the camera without moving or saying anything – and was surprised by the results. Bacon painstakingly posed in front of his art, while the Who guitarist Pete Townshend stared into the camera with an unflustered, ironic smile and the Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk began singing and shouting.

While Warhol's films left space around the heads of his subjects, Gidal wanted his frames to be more claustrophobic, with the faces looking magnified and constrained. "I wanted my camera to be a complete authoritarian imposition," he said.

Sandy Nairne, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, said the show gives an insight into how portraiture has been reinvented and invigorated by photography and film. Other works in the show range from Richard Hamilton's contact sheet of Marilyn Monroe photographs to works by Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Blake and Hockney. The show opens on Thursday and runs until 20 January.

Comments