His first silkscreen was Marilyn Monroe. The year was 1962.He began by creating a stencil on a mesh screen using a light-sensitive emulsion—two liquids that would ordinarily not mix together. Then, he photocopied a black-and-white photograph of the blonde bombshell onto a transparent overlay that he placed underneath the screen. The pair was then set on top of a light box.
When the screen was exposed to light, the emulsion hardened, but not the unexposed area: the image of a smiling Marilyn, creating a perfect stencil.
It achieved a look of uniformity, with some inconsistencies and blemishes, if the screen got clogged or the paint spattered. And for revolutionary Andy Warhol, therein lay the beauty.
That same year, the artist founded his Manhattan studio, “The Factory,” where assistants helped him create his now-famous silkscreen prints—from flowers and pop icons to dollar signs and commercial products. The work consistently challenged what most people thought constituted “art.”
“It was pop. Pop culture, pop art, from the time he created the works to now,” art collector and curator Ryan Ross said during an interview last week at his East Hampton-based Gallery Valentine. “He tapped into that whole idea of pop culture and the imagery and the figures and the products live on today.”
The first Warhol that Mr. Ross ever saw was of a Campbell’s tomato soup can. The image stuck with him, he said. And on Thursday, July 26, Mr. Ross and his sister, Dara, will unveil a slate of Warhols on opening night of the second annual Art Southampton, an international contemporary art fair presented by Art Miami, which will be held in a 100,000-square-foot pavilion on the grounds behind the Southampton Elks Lodge.
“Year one was great. We learned a lot, obviously, coming to a new area,” founder and director Nick Korniloff said on Monday after a morning run on the beach in Southampton. “But we have our formula and it worked, as far as drawing big crowds and having successful sales. Sixty percent of the dealers from last year are resigned to us and the fair has grown twice in its size. It’s become much more international with very high-quality galleries and works being presented. I think it’s a strong vote of confidence in the belief of what we’re doing out here.”
Partnering with the New York Academy of Art, narrative painter Eric Fischl will curate an exhibition of work by academy artists, who will be shown alongside pieces ranging from $2,000 to $12 million. A total of 88 international galleries will participate, bringing a wide range of work by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, John Chamberlain, Willem de Kooning, Larry Rivers, Banksy and, notably, Andy Warhol. A VIP cocktail party and panel discussion with several experts on the legendary silkscreen artist will be held opening night.
“While Warhol’s first pieces were paintings, by 1963 Warhol had abandoned the brush as his tool,” Ms. Ross wrote last week in an email. “Instead, he embraced the medium of the silkscreen printing on canvas and paper.”
Warhol enjoyed how silkscreen depersonalized the image—producing art the way companies produced merchandise to sell en masse—while allowing him to take ownership by applying his own outlandish taste in color, according to Ms. Ross, and to produce multiple copies of each of his pieces,
But they weren’t a hit straight off the presses. When Warhol premiered his series of dollar signs—considered now to be one of his most iconic images—in the 1960s, the show was a singular disaster. Not one piece sold, Ms. Ross reported.
“Warhol meant to shock his audience with his controversial use of the emblem,” she said.
By the 1970s, public perception shifted and Warhol landed on the art scene with his “Flowers” series and iconic portraits, including the “Reigning Queens” series and of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.
“We have the complete suite of Mao silkscreen on paper, a series of 10,” Mr. Ross said. “I’m trying to figure out if we’re going to show the whole suite or part of it or none of it, you know? That’s something so major. It’s significant, in terms of Warhol’s career.”
The Mao series, created from 1972 into ’73, was something of a rebirth for Warhol. It was his return to the art world after an assassination attempt by radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas five years earlier.
“His critics praised the images’ painterly surfaces and controversial subject matter. Warhol chose Mao as his subject after he was inspired by Nixon’s presidential visit to China,” Ms. Ross said. “Yet despite being so emblematic of the 1970s, the image is timeless, just as Warhol intended. In this work he is not a political dictator. He is one of Warhol’s beloved celebrity icons.”
Alongside the legendary Marilyn Monroe images, of course.
“I still have clients searching and searching for Marilyn,” Mr. Ross said. “The beauty of Warhol is that his market is so, so, so strong. And you’d think an artist who created so much work, it would be the opposite. But he’s the most popular artist to ever paint or to work.”
Art Southampton will run from Thursday, July 25, and through Monday, July 29, on the fairgrounds behind the Southampton Elks Lodge. The VIP Preview benefiting Southampton Hospital will kick off the art fair from 6 to 10 p.m. on opening night. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. from Friday through Sunday and noon to 5 p.m. on Monday. Apply for VIP status online. A one-day fair pass is $15 and a multi-day pass is $30. For more information, visit art-southampton.com.