Comprising arguably some of the most instantly recognisable and reproduced images of the twentieth century, the portfolios of Andy Warhol can be hard to approach and view anew. He was a vanishing artist, utilising the silk screen print to delegate the completion of his works to others, and encouraging the mass-production of bastard prints of his work even after his death. With this in mind, the latest exhibition of his work at the Dulwich Gallery manages to produce an interesting angle on the artist's work by showing some of the more sophisticated and personalised examples of his printing technique.
Whilst the exhibition does begin with some of the most well-known of Warhol's images - the face of Marilyn Monroe, the Campbell's soup cans - there are more individual and interesting hints of the illustrator and graphic designer behind some of the later images on display. The deeply familiar face of Monroe, reproduced time after time with different colour variations serves as a kind of first-stage introduction to the gradual refinement of the artist's mastery of the silkscreen. The second room shows how Warhol dropped the celebrity for more mundane subject matter in a series of still lifes, but Warhol's Space Fruit, glittering with diamond dust (crushed glass), displays a refreshing variation on his usual prints. These images have what you would expect from Warhol - they are extremely aesthetically pleasing - but the use of collage, in a thoughtful arrangement of the photographic image and the superimposed drawings, make them particularly complex and interesting, and show off the artist's abilities beyond the basic colourful printing of an image.
These prints are attributed to the input of Rupert Smith, Warhol's partner on print projects in the late 1970s, and his influence continues in the portraits. Again, these images display what would be expected from Warhol - an interest in celebrity - but they are executed in a more intriguing and personal way than the Monroe portrait by utilising more refined techniques. And the distinction between mass-produced print and personalised painting is blurred in his portraits of Muhammad Ali. Warhol took the original images himself with a polaroid camera and the boxer is shown from different angles, his clenched fist depicted in isolation. This is a variation on the artist's repetitive prints of the same image, and gives the impression of an attentive focus, as Ali's movements are emphasised by the addition of hand-drawn lines, making for an intimate portrait. Warhol's brilliant eye for colour and positioning are in full force, but the prints remain individual and personal. The images seem less about the mass produced image that can be achieved on the silk screen press, and more about an interest in composition and arrangement of images.
The final stretch of the exhibition - what the gallery terms 'the pop Rocco print room' - off-sets these more thoughtful images by venturing into all-out commercialism. The use of plenty of diamond dust and fluorescent lines in Myths and Endangered Species might be playful, but certainly does not approach the same visual intrigue and sensitivity of the artist's still lifes or portraits. Warhol's method did speak to the mass produced imagery of a new commercial age, but these prints of superman and zebras feel particularly vacuous when viewed after what appear to be more carefully composed, earlier pieces. Still, the exhibition succeeds in avoiding focus on the overly predictable and familiar aspects of an artist's work. What is exposed and displayed instead is Warhol's undeniable eye for colour and composition.