BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 02 JAN 97
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Issue 32

Andy Warhol/ Visions of Space and UFOs in Art

BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 02 JAN 97

It is not all that far-fetched to think of Andy Warhol and UFO abductees in the same thought. Like matching bookends, they have both helped to define two sides of a visionary truth for America. This country's deep-seated democratic pragmatism still leaves most of its citizens feeling that within the realms of the visionary, such as art or UFO sightings, truth is better left to the eye of the beholder. Andy's truth was deadpan and detached, and for those who boast about having close encounters, truth can be exotic, even quixotic. By coincidence, these two visions of truth surfaced in two exhibitions this autumn in New York: Warhol's cool Rorschach paintings appeared around the corner from an ebullient exhibition of artists who had been abducted by visitors from outer space.

When Warhol made his Rorschach paintings in 1984, he actually morphed two visionary subjects into one - art and psychology. One would think that Warhol's predilection for standardised subjects lead him to the Rorschach inkblots set, but it didn't. In fact, he first saw the potential of the Rorschach imagery as a function of his perfectly charming inversion of their true purpose: originally he imagined the inkblots were made by psychiatric patients and then interpreted by their doctors as a way to 'see into' troubled minds. 'I thought that when you go to places like hospitals they tell you to draw and make Rorschach Tests', he said before lamenting, 'I wish I had known there was a standardised set'. Warhol's original desire was to turn the test on himself allowing his mind, neurotic or otherwise, to become a subject his audience would interpret or even diagnose. Warhol anticipated that Rorschach's stable objectivity would tell him who he was.

Had he only quoted the standardised series of inkblots, there would only have been another chain of Warhol paintings without the slightest stylistic deviation from soup cans or car wrecks. But instead, and by serendipitous mistake, Warhol unwittingly allowed himself to ingeniously project into his subject. Warhol's 'seeing into' the business of inkblots, was as uninhibited an interpretation as the thousands rendered by those who submitted themselves to Hermann Rorschach's projective test. In effect, Warhol inadvertently fashioned a meta-projection out of a projective test, casting his unconscious attitudes about psychology into an ambiguous situation. It is in this sense that his misappropriated vision of self-truth might as well be as interesting to psychologists as to art historians. But Warhol's twisted and ultimately ironic manoeuvre backfired. By submitting his inkblots to be 'read into', he only collapsed the Rorschach test into a pop icon, rendering it as commodified and exhausted as any Liz or Elvis. With hindsight, it almost seems that he could not have helped himself.

'Sightings' can stand in for 'vision' as the avenue of truth when you realise that UFO artists are saddled with Warhol's dilemma turned inside out. Instead of evacuating truth, as Warhol did, these 'outsider' artists must breath truth and authenticity into something just as deadened, but by an equal - if opposite - lack of credibility. While I speculated that psychologists, as much as art historians, could understand Warhol's pictures as possessing a real and binary meaning, Ionel Talpazon, an artist who has been visited by aliens, embraces such dualism. He explains that his work, too, 'has a double significance as it has a scientific basis and an artistic dimension'. Talpazon believes that scientists, more than art historians, will benefit from the pictures of the flying saucers he has flown on because they offer the low-down on his abductions.

Talpazon's drawings of extraterrestrial spacecraft are pure visual splendour, but also sober indexes of alien metallurgical and propulsion systems. One must tread tenderly here, granting him, and these other UFO artists respect for the ambitions they hold for their work. From Talpazon's rousing point of view, his pictures are artistic fact, but also scientific visions requiring engineers with sufficient insight to be able to 'read into' the drawings in order that they might be interpreted. Where Warhol had hoped to know himself through the Rorschach paintings, Talpazon's desire is for science to tell him where he has been. For both Talpazon and Warhol their amalgams of science and art smudge respected boundaries between disciplines and create a subjective truth. Warhol may have, at one time or another, blithely commented on UFOs, but there is one quote which does double duty reflecting on the truth of the close encounter with his own psychology and Talpazon's with aliens: 'if you worked your problems up into entertaining routines, people would like you even more for being strong enough to say you were different and actually have fun with it.'

Ronald Jones is on the faculty of the Royal College of Art, London, and a regular contributor to this magazine.