Andy Warhol is best known for being the founder of pop art and redefining fine arts through the use of commercial and mainstream esthetic. However, he also explored a wide variety of mediums, which included performance art, filmmaking, video installations, and writing. Although they're not as recognized, Warhol used these other forms to explore deeper topics than the ones pop art could reach.
Like his art, Warhol was also a man of many faces. He was an enigmatic character who hid endless possibilities behind his mysterious gaze. His personal life was the subject of much debate due to his chameleonic personality. Outside pop art, Warhol infused his works with homoerotic imagery and motifs. For this reason many people believed him to be a homosexual, despite his claims of having remained a virgin his entire life.
Photography was central to his work, as it was the visual form that dominated the mass-media of American culture. Whether it was unintentionally or on purpose, Warhol reproduced a perspective on sexuality that was ahead of his time.
While the artist was already famous for having his works featured on silkscreens, paintings of celebrities, disasters, and other subjects, elements such as artifice, role-play, and construction of identity in LGBT circles had a magnetic effect on him. So it's no surprise that his style was characterized by theatricality and masquerading.
In the early 1980s, Andy Warhol decided to pose in drag for a series of Polaroid portraits taken by photographer Christopher Makos. He appears in every photo wearing heavy white make-up, black eyeliner, and bright red lipstick. He also wears a wide variety of wigs: platinum blonde, short black bob, heavy metal fuzzy hair, and others.
These series could be considered Warhol 's opportunity to explore the notions and implications of sexuality and gender identity. Since he had always manifested an obsession with characters, human faces, and body outlines, we can find in each photograph how he expressed different sides of himself.
By dressing up as a woman and posing in front of a camera, he could address and confront his own identity with questions such as: Who am I? Who do I want to be? What or who lies underneath all these clothing and makeup?
With each photo, Warhol got the chance to embody several versions of himself. He knew that analyzing those hidden or unexplored parts of your inner world was essential to understand the outside world.
It's also worth noting that Warhol had a sort of female blond alter ego who he called Drella (a contraction of the names Dracula and Cinderella). This alter ego was an intimate representation of Warhol's conflicting feelings towards a society's need to pin down people into rigid categories. Maybe Drella was born from this series of photos.
These photos remind us of a valuable lesson art has previously taught us: we can't be defined by the limits of binary systems. Sexuality and gender have many faces. It's clear that Warhol was ahead of his time regarding his ideas on gender. These photos could be a first approach towards the exploration of gender or sexual fluidity.
If you want to know more about gender fluidity as a topic in art check out:
Sensual Photographs That Celebrate The Sexuality Spectrum With Neon Colors
Translated by Andrea Valle Gracia