ANDY WARHOL:: OXIDATION PAINTINGS, aka PISS PAINTINGS, 1977-78

“Basically we’d say, ‘we’re making these piss-paintings. Wanna come up and pee?’ And that didn’t work as well.  Uhh, I brought u a girl, and she squats and just makes a puddle.  And Andy went, ‘Oh there’s no brushstroke.’  So we learned the hard way.”   -Ronnie Cutrone

(below,from Warholstars.org)

The Oxidation paintings are sometimes referred to as Warhol’s Piss Paintings. The paintings are generally attributed to 1977-78, although Warhol also referred to them in a 1976 interview. The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné (Vol. 1) notes “In a little-known 1976 interview, when Warhol was asked if there were ‘any old non-representational paintings that no one knows about,’ he replied: ‘The only ones I have are the piss paintings; I have a couple. That was a long time ago. Then there were the canvases that I used to leave on the street and people used to walk on them; in the end I had a lot of dirty canvases. Then I thought they were all diseased so I rolled them up and put them somewhere. Reproduced with this interview was an unstretched canvas, captioned ‘Andy Warhol: Piss Painting, urine on canvas, 46 x 80, c. 1961.'” 

One of the people that urinated on the 1970s canvases was Halston’s boyfriend, Victor Hugo. According to Paul Alexander in Death and Disaster, The Rise of the Warhol Empire and the Race for Andy’s Millions, “Rum or had it that Warhol chose Hugo to do the urinating because Hugo had an unusually large bladder, not to mention an unusually large penis, which was why, Andy slyly speculated to friends, Hugo was the lover of his friend Halston. When Hugo peed on a canvas, his urine reacted with a chemical compound that had been painted on the canvas, creating a mass of lines and squiggles.”

According to Victor Bockris, the Oxidation paintings were created when Victor Hugo, Ronnie Cutrone and Walter Steding took turns pissing on canvases coated with wet copper paint, which would oxidize and turn orange and green when it was pissed on. Unfortunately, according to Bockris, “the Oxidation paintings retained the lingering odour of their main ingredient.” Vincent Fremont recalled “Andy was taking a lot of B vitamins… and during that whole period the back room stank of piss.”

Bob Colacello:

“Did Andy ever use his own urine? My diary shows that when he first began the series in December 1977, he did – I didn’t witness the act of creation, he referred to it in passing. But he soon turned to Victor and Ronnie, as usual preferring to have others do the repetitive technical work for him. And there were many others: boys who’d come to lunch and drink too much wine, and find it funny or even flattering to be asked to help Andy ‘paint’. Andy always had a little extra bounce in his walk as he led them to his studio… Victor [Hugo] was showing up with ever larger numbers of ‘assistants’, hired by the hour at the Everard and St. Marks Baths.”

A possible inspiration for the piss paintings was the popularity of watersports among sections of the gay community.

Bob Colacello:

“By 1977, Manhattan boasted at least a dozen thriving gay bathhouses, although they were considered a bit passé compared to the backroom bars of the far West Village… The Anvil was famous for its fist-fucking stage show. The Toilet featured tubs and troughs where naked men lay for other naked men to urinate on them… Andy only went to the Anvil once, as far as I know, and he never went to the Toilet, though he also once went to the Eagle’s Nest… where he was fascinated, he told me, by a man who urinated in an empty beer bottle and left it on the bar for someone else to to drink. ‘They were all fighting over it,’ he said. It was so abstract.'”

According to Bockris, “The Piss Paintings were “surprisingly well received when they were displayed in Europe the following year. One critic hailed them as ‘Warhol at his purest’, drawing historical references to Jackson Pollock’s legendary emission into Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace.”

Bob Colacello:

“I’m pretty sure that the Piss Paintings idea came from friends telling him about what went on at the Toilet, reinforced perhaps by the punks peeing at his Paris opening. He was also aware of the scene in the 1968 Pasolini movie, Teorema, where an aspiring artist pisses on is paintings. ‘It’s a parody of Jackson Pollock,’ he told me, referring to rumours that Pollock would urinate on a canvas before delivering it to a dealer or client he didn’t like. Andy liked his work to have art-historical references, though if you brought it up, he would pretend he didn’t know what you were talking about… Nonetheless, the true muse of Andy’s sexual works in 1977-78 was Victor Hugo.”

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