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In the early 1960s, Andy Warhol turned to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor as artistic subject matter. He produced several life-sized portraits of Elvis Presley, America’s most famous rock and roll singer and sex symbol throughout the 1950s. By 1963, when this painting was made, Elvis—whose hip-shaking moves had scandalized some only a decade before—was being overshadowed by a new generation of performers, and his career was on the decline.
In Double Elvis, Warhol created a strobe effect by overlapping two images of the singer—most likely sourced from a publicity still for the Western film Flaming Star (1960). The silver background conveys a sense of glamour, while also serving a practical purpose—the opacity of the spray paint allowed Warhol to easily mask and silkscreen multiple images on top of each other. Double Elvis originally belonged to a long, continuous canvas of Elvises that was later cut and stretched into multiple paintings. The artist’s interest in film might explain why he created Elvis in double—the singer/actor appears to be moving back and forth, as if in a film strip.