It has been thirty years since Andy Warhol died. That does not appear to have stopped the iconic pop artist from creating new, posthumous works.
The creative hand behind these new works is Paul Stephenson, who has made a series of prints from Warhol’s original acetates. In doing so, he has sparked fierce debate over the authentication of art and the nature of artistic authorship.
Stephenson purchased a collection of ten of Warhol’s acetates in 2010 after years spent studying Warhol’s printing process and creative philosophy. The acetates were authenticated by the Andy Warhol Museum, Warhol’s master printer Alexander Heinrici and the late Warhol expert Rainer Crone. Stephenson began to explore the possibility of following Warhol’s screenprinting techniques to reproduce Warhol’s portraits of Mao, Jackie Kennedy and Warhol himself from the source acetates. In doing so, he has posed the controversial question of whether or not the finished works could be considered pieces by the late artist and ‘The Factory’ studio legend himself.
After all, during his lifetime Warhol had suggested that he would like other artists to reproduce his art and did not in fact print his own works. “I want other people to make my paintings… I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me. I think it would be so great if more people took up silk screens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s”, Warhol told interviewer Gene Swenson in 1963. Stephenson’s practice is an ode to this philosophy but it has divided the art world.
Prior to his death in 2016, Croner sent Stephenson an email in which he described Stephenson’s prints as ‘authentic Andy Warhol paintings’. ‘These are fantastic, they are in Warhol’s concept, in his tradition, (and for other people/us to make his paintings?), it is what he wanted’, Croner wrote. Another Warhol expert, Richard Polsky, is less enthusiastic about Stephenson’s prints and believes they should not be considered the posthumous work of the original artist. “It sounds like he’s trying to extend Warhol’s career, so to speak, even though he’s dead. There’s a charm to that, but it just seems so shallow”, Polsky says.
Stephenson stressed that he is not claiming his works are by Warhol but is instead asking how the art world might understand his portraits. “If the world-leading Warhol scholar says it’s a Warhol, and you do everything in the mechanical process that the original artist did, and the original artist said ‘I want other people to make my paintings’, which he did – what is it?”