It's All In Your Head: Warhol's Rorschach Paintings
Posted by Andrea D. on March 25, 2010 - 3:35pm
Categories: On the Walls
Now that Andy Warhol: The Last Decade has been at The Modern for a few weeks, I've had the opportunity to take several of my friends on tours through the galleries, where we actively discuss and debate over Warhol's final work. I always find my friends' reactions to Warhol's Rorschach pieces interesting because, for an artist who often claimed that his work was superficial and devoid of a deeper meaning, several of my friends often express surprise that Warhol would blatantly pick such a psychologically-charged subject matter, and portray it at such a large scale. (It should also be noted that his are not the only Rorschach pieces in the museum galleries.)

The Rorschach test, a.k.a. "The Ink Blot test", was created by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach during the 1920's. The test uses psychological interpretation and/or complex scientific algorithms to examine how the test subject perceives a series of ink blots. This test is often conducted in order to explore the subject's personality and the way that he or she emotionally functions. Each of the test's ten ink blots is bilaterally symmetrical, (they're made that way on purpose), an important characteristic that is also echoed in Warhol's Rorschachs.

Contrary to popular belief, the results from a Rorschach test are not based entirely upon what the subject sees in the ink blots. Other information, such as the amount of time the subject spends examining a particular ink blot, or the subject's comments about the ink blot, are equally important. The form and color of the blot itself are also taken into consideration.

The irony here is that Warhol never claimed his Rorschach pieces were created to explore the deeper consciousness of the viewer— they were, above all, evidence of his late foray into abstract art. But since Warhol's abstractions were always solidly grounded in something reality-based, his idea to associate his pieces with the Rorschach psychological evaluation was ingenious: suddenly, the art became less about abstraction for the sake of abstraction, and more about what the abstraction means to you, the viewer: abstraction for the sake of self-reflection, as it were.

I've kept a running tally in my head of different things that people see when they look at Warhol's Rorschach pieces. Interestingly, several people have seen similar things in the ink blots, a fact that I find to be really cool. Images of skulls (sometimes with horns or antlers) or a large scorpion seem to be prevalently associated with the gold-and-black Rorschach next to the Oxidation Paintings. Meanwhile, the darker Rorschach in the opposite gallery has been associated with anything from lobsters (in the negative space at the top), to visceral animal carcasses in the style of Rembrandt or Chaim Soutine, to dark, watery velvet.

What do you see in Warhol's Rorschach paintings? Did you see something similar to the images mentioned above, or were your interpretations completely different? Feel free to comment here, on Twitter (@themodernfw) or on our Facebook page!