“I said that the athletes were better than movie stars and I don’t know what I’m talking about because athletes are the new movie stars” (Warhol)
In 1977, Warhol photographed Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. New York collector Richard Weisman had commissioned Warhol to do a series of portraits of well-known athletes such as the footballer Pelé, which came to be known as his Athletes series. What was unique about this series was that the image was taken by Warhol with his camera rather from a stock photo. Each athlete had to allow the artist to take as many Polaroids as he needed, trying to capture the perfect image for his final work.
According to Warhol’s biographer, Victor Brockis, Ali had been ignoring Warhol during the photoshoot and that in the only exchange the two had, the boxer exclaimed that no white person would pay for an image of ‘the little Negro from Kentucky’. Brockis recalls that in response Warhol stated: “Could we, uh, do some, uh, pictures where you’re not, uh, talking?”. After this utterance there was complete silence in the room no one knowing how Ali would respond. He chuckled and became instantly professional and striked a series of energetic poses.
In this image Muhammad Ali is not depicted as a sportsman, he is presented as a contemporary icon, idealised and heightened to an almost mystical level. He is portrayed active and alert, raising his fists, the tools of his trade to which he owes his fame, in a combative pose. Warhol was fascinated by Ali as he had managed to raise himself up from a humble background to become a star. Warhol was also interested in the media and its voyeuristic relationship with violence and he always conveyed a sense of objectivity and detachment in its representation because of this.
These prints covered new ground on several fronts. It was one of the first depictions of contemporary black heroes in American art and heralded a change in style for Warhol with the introduction of collage elements, updating an effect achieved in the cut-outs of Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger earlier in the century. These hand-drawn lines on the image also helped accentuate Ali’s dynamic movements.
Andy Warhol was born in 1928 in Pennsylvania. He was an artist, a director and a producer who was a leading figure in the Visual Arts movement know as Pop art. His works became known for its exploration on the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture, and advertising prevalent in the 60s. His oeuvres vary from painting and silkscreening through to photography, film, and sculpture.
Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and films. He left his extensive permanent collection of art and archives to the states and are now housed in the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburg, one of the largest museum in America dedicated to a single artist. His work fetch high prices and are highly collectable.