PA State Standards:
Arts and Humanities
Science and Technology
Learning Objectives and Cognitive Skills:
Students discuss, compare, and contrast Warhol’s Pop Art work with his abstract paintings from the 1970s and 1980s.
Students discuss how oxidation occurs, then hypothesize how Warhol created oxidation in his paintings.
Using photos of abstractions found in nature, students guess what the images depict and how the abstractions might have formed.
Students use various liquids on copper-based paint to create abstract paintings.
Students analyze the variables in the process of creating an abstract work of art using chemical experimentation.
Andy Warhol, Oxidation Painting, 1978
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Andy Warhol focused for the first time on the exploration of abstraction. While paintings he made in the 1960s with repeated blocks of imagery forming a patterned surface—and even some early experiments in the 1950s suggest a certain abstraction—his abstract works in the late ’70s and ’80s have no discernable representational imagery. With these paintings, often created in large series that included mural-sized works, the artist dives into the beauty and mood of color and texture in a way he had not done before. Yet, Warhol’s delving into abstraction is not without coy references and plays between what’s real and what’s abstract. For example, the Shadows series are abstract paintings of what is ostensibly a “real” shadow. In December 1977 Warhol began the Oxidations, iridescent canvases made up of coppery yellows, oranges, and greens. Surprisingly, the only paint used by the artist in this very “painterly” work was the metallic copper background. Warhol invited friends and acquaintances to urinate onto a canvas covered in metallic paint in order to cause oxidation. The uric acid reacted with the copper in the paint removing components of the pure metal to form mineral salts. Some colors developed immediately while others like blue and green formed later on top of the red or brown copper oxides. Warhol and his collaborators experimented with both pattern and coloration by using a variety of metallic background paints and by varying the maker’s fluid and food intake. Critics have made numerous comparisons between the Oxidation series and Jackson Pollack’s famous drip paintings from the 1940s and early 1950s.
“It was just copper paint and you would wonder sometimes why it did turn green and sometimes it didn’t. It would just turn black or something. I don’t know what made it do that.”
Andy Warhol quoted in Andy Warhol: 1956-86: Mirror of His Time, by Francis Mark.
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, and the Asahi Shimbun with the Museum of
Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 1996.
Andy paid Victor [Hugo] to be the 'collaborator' ... He would come to the Factory to urinate on canvases that had already been primed with copper-based paint by Andy. The uric acid would oxidize the metal in the copper ground, causing it to discolor, allowing for patterns to be created according to the 'movement' of the 'painter'.
Bob Colacello quoted in After Andy Warhol: Piss & Sex Paintings and Drawings
Exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, 2002.
Student Handout 1: Nature Cards
Student Handout 2: Acids and Bases
Canvas squares or heavy white paper
* Modern Masters Copper Paint (Water-based metallic paints contain real metal particles that will tarnish naturally over time and when exposed to the elements.)
Modern Masters Patinas (Aging solutions to be used over the metallic paints. These solutions speed the aging process to create beautiful, authentic black, blue, or green patinas.)
Form one large abstract painting using the individual oxidations.
Through discussion or writing students should:
Explore the chemistry behind corrosion. Write the chemical equations for the materials used in each painting.