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To create these prints, Warhol started with a source photograph, enlarged the print, and made a freehand line drawing onto the subject’s face. He then collaged fragments of colored paper onto the drawing and made silk screens of them. The effect is ironic because silk screens, a medium he frequently used, involve a photomechanical process that removes the artist’s touch. Roy Lichtenstein, another pop artist, left his images without the record of his hand so that they looked as if they were created by a machine. Warhol uses subtle benday dots in the shadows of these faces, one of Lichtenstein’s hallmarks, and a printing technique derived from pulp comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. With the benday dot, Warhol makes a connection between these self-transformative Jews and comic book superheroes.
However, with these portraits, we can also see Warhol’s human touch in his rendering of the curvy lines in Meir’s hair and in Buber’s beard. It’s as if Warhol couldn’t resist leaving a trace of himself in his subjects. The scribbled lines energize, rather than mechanize, these portraits. The effect of hanging these portraits in one room is the powerful feeling that these figures have been re-animated. The faces push up against the surface, creating an immediacy with the viewer. The riotous color and geometric shapes, and the solid presence of these weighty Jewish heads made me feel that these figures were somehow alive and about to engage in conversation. It’s a Last Supper of Genius Jews without the table and the food. For a moment, in that small room in the middle of Milwaukee, I felt as if I were surrounded by family.
Laura Hodes is a writer and an attorney living in Chicago.