In the spring of 1976, Jamie Wyeth moved into Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory, for a mutual portrait session. Wyeth had long wanted to paint the famous older artist, and he produced a finished oil and twenty-four studies delineating Warhol’s physical flaws in painful detail. Drawn to and challenged by Warhol’s guarded demeanor, Wyeth admitted that the blond-wigged “child face as innocent as unscribbled white paper” made the task more difficult. The two became lifelong friends, however. Both had experienced national fame as well as withering criticism from the art press for their different versions of representational art.
The 1976 opening of Coe Kerr Gallery’s exhibition of their work attracted a celebrity-studded New York City crowd. But while most critics assumed the two artistic approaches were antithetical, Wyeth’s harrowing portrayal was as impenetrable a surface-only depiction as Warhol’s glamorous one. Beauty and homeliness can both mask the individual.