The glamorous Mao portfolio is an iconic Warhol celebrity portrait series. The set transformed Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong into a 1970s Pop icon like Marilyn Monroe. Drawing inspiration from mass media and current events, Warhol began to create Mao imagery in 1972, the year President Nixon met with Chairman Mao in China to mend ties between the superpowers. News of Mao’s Chinese Cultural Revolution was continuously being circulated in the media. Warhol’s Mao portraits are based on an appropriated black and white photograph from the cover of his widespread 1966 communist publication, Little Red Book, which is the foundation of Maoist ideology.
Mao comments on the disparity between West and East in the 1970s through its subject matter and production technique. Warhol’s kitsch Pop Art depiction of a communist leader combines America’s popular culture and China’s communist propaganda of Mao’s portrait in public spaces. Mao as a Pop icon also parallels the West’s obsession with glamorous celebrities and movie stars to the East’s following of communist leader Mao. Mao is Warhol’s first silkscreen series that includes hand drawn lines, which were screened onto the image separately. The use of this technique for Mao is ironic, as the individual scribbles are signs of personal expression and artistic freedom that were not allowed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The commercial silkscreening process itself is a play on communist ideology, as the Mao portraits’ production resembles the mass manufacture of consumer products - the foundation of capitalism.
Mao, 1972, is a portfolio of ten screenprints on Beckett High White paper, 36” x 36” each. The set is an edition of 250 signed in ball-point pen and numbered with a rubber stamp on verso. There are 50 Artist Proofs signed and numbered in pencil on verso; some signed and numbered in ball-point pen. The series was published through Castelli Graphic and Multiples, Inc., New York. Printer: Styria Studio, Inc., New York.