Elvis has never left the building

Eighties, Exhibition, Homages, Pop & Rock, Seventies, Sixties

Now let’s throw some Elvises in the mix! The famous Silver Elvis paintings Andy Warhol has created in 1963 for Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, have proven to be immensely popular for appropiation, and they still are. Also on record covers. I know, these aren’t Warhol covers as such, but they are so much fun.

As a source for his paintings, Warhol has chosen a Hollywood publicity portrait of Elvis Presley as a gunslinger in the Western movie Flaming Star (1960). He created a vast series of paintings, silkscreening the Elvis image on silver sprayed canvases. A single image, double or triple, sometimes adjacent and sometimes overlapping each other. The most famous anecdote about the Elvis paintings, is that Bob Dylan was given a Double Elvis by Warhol, but Dylan didn’t like it that much and later traded it for a couch. Bad decision!

The publicity photo for Flaming Star.

The Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, is very proud to have a huge Elvis painting in its collection, consisting of two panels of 2 m² each, called Elvis I & Elvis II. One panel has a coloured version, the second one is black on silver. For their 2006 exhibition Andy Warhol / Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters 1962-1964 the gallery issued an accompanying cd, narrated by cult filmmaker David Cronenberg. The two panels of the Elvis painting are front and back of the cd. My copy, appropriately signed in silver by Cronenberg, has been generously offered for sale to me by friend and fellow collector Frank Edwards.

I took this photo of Elvis I & Elvis II when it was on view in the Andy Warhol exhibition in Tate Modern, London in 2020.

Now let’s have a look at some of the appropriated Elvises on record covers I was talking about. First in line is the 1985 album Blind! by the British band Andi Sex-Gang, with five overlapping Elvises. Art is credited as thus: An Undercover cover.

An Italian release from 1990 by Mauro Teho Teardo, titled Caught From Behind, has two coloured Elvises that seem teleported from the left panel of the Ontario Art Gallery painting. They kind of serve as bodyguards for the artist.

It goes without saying that publicity posters, books and cd soundtracks for the movie I Shot Andy Warhol made good use of an adapted version of the Elvis image. Actress Lili Taylor plays the role of Valerie Solanas, the disgruntled Warhol Superstar who shot and nearly killed Warhol at his headquarters The Factory in 1968. Most of them are in black and silver, but pictured below is a coloured version on the cover of a Japanese laserdisk of the movie.

A repeat from my previous post on the album cover art of the Italian funk album Alta Tensione: a detail from the inner sleeve, with singer and saxophone player Enzo Avitabile pictured as a Triple Enzo by Andy Warhol.

In his new biography Warhol, Blake Gopnik writes that “Warhol had planned on playing recordings of gunshots in the Ferus space, making all-American death and disaster almost as present there as on the walls of his firehouse, when silkscreens of suicides had kept company with Elvis.” (Ecco, p331, Kindle edition). What didn’t happen in 1963, did happen in the great 2008 exhibition Warhol Live in Montreal: one of the first things the visitor encountered was an Elvis painting, with at regular intervals the sound of a gunshot seeming to come from it. That was really awesome!

On some album covers allusion of real shooting is made with bullet holes. First one is the cd Warholes, Warhol Memory Disorder, a cd resulting from a visual-acoustic installation by Lengow & HEyeRMEarS and Otomo Yoshihide & Sachiko M at Warhol’s Museum of Modern Arts, Medzilaborce, Slovakia, in 1999.

The cover of the cd depicts a Warhol Cow silkscreen with bullet holes. The inside of the gatefold card cover shows a large Silver Elvis, with the face cut out. When you turn the cd around inside the cardboard wallet, each of the four heads of the participating artists can appear as the shooter.

How To Kill The DJ (part two) is a French compilation album from 2004, with tracks compiled and mixed by the Glaswegian dj’s JD Twitch and JD Wilkes. The two producers are pictured on the cover in the macho Elvis pose, wearing headphones at their belts. A nice poster is included, with multiple serial Twitches and Wilkeses. There is also a bullethole, apparently the bullet went through the inside cover and the two cd’s. Nicely done!

Last photo isn’t of a record cover. In the Fall of 2019 the so called Tetris challenge was all over the internet: firefighters, military, paramedics, newscrews… from all over the world showing their gear laid out on the ground in a geometrical way, with themselves lying in between, and then an aireal picture was taken. So the end result looked like the screen of a computer game. Picture below was the offering of the Ludwig Múzeum in Budapest, Hungary on their Facebook page. The museum personnel is lying on the floor, around an original 1963 Single Elvis they have in their collection. Easily a couple of million dollars worth, this painting!

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