'Red disaster' by Andy Warhol (1963) in high resolution

red disaster electric chairWarhol’s friend, the curator Henry Geldzahler, suggested that the artist should address tougher subjects. In response Warhol pursued themes of death and disaster, frequently sourcing images from sensational tabloids or pulp magazines. He was attracted to the themes of car crashes, race riots and executions, which as images appear in often macabre, trashy or banal formulations. These images of death and disaster retain an enigmatic lingering power.

The Electric chair series of prints from 1971 recycled imagery already seen in Warhol’s painting. Both canvases and prints were derived from a photograph of the electric chair in Sing Sing Penitentiary in Ossining, New York, where the convicted Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been executed on 13 January 1953 at the height of the Cold War. This photograph of the electric chair was released by the press service Wide World Photo on the day of the execution.

For the prints, the artist cropped the photograph, honing in on the empty chair. Often using pastel decorator colours, applied in a painterly manner, the contrast between the deathly subject and the softened almost delicate technique underscores the horror of the execution chamber.