Repent and Sin No More! (Positive) by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

Repent and Sin No More! (Positive), 1985–86, Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, Private Collection, © 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out

The More They Increased

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Joost Joustra

Besides celebrating Andy Warhol as the quintessential artist of his time and place—the artist who held the most revealing mirror up to his generation—I’d like to recall a side of his character that he hid from all but his closest friends: his spiritual side. (Richardson 1992: 140)

With these words, the art historian John Richardson revealed Warhol’s hitherto ‘hidden’ Catholicism, in his eulogy addressed to the crowds that had gathered for the artist’s memorial service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1987. He made this perhaps surprising remark not long after Warhol had made Repent and Sin No More!.

Warhol’s inherently verbal work reads as a warning, as does Hosea 4’s address to the Israelites: the classic prophetic call ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel’ (v.1) is followed some sentences later by ‘the more they increased, the more they sinned against me’ (v.7). The people of Israel heard, but did not listen.

Notions of re-use and increase are fundamental to Warhol’s oeuvre. Reproduction and repetition are the artist’s trademark. For Repent and Sin No More!, the appropriated image took shape in two versions, a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’, inverting the sober black-and-white of lettering and background. Their monochromatic make-up puts these works in a longstanding Christian tradition. In medieval and early-modern Europe for instance, black, white, and greys were used in the visual culture of Lent as a means for marking this period of penitence (Sliwka 2017: 27).

Repent and Sin No More! may in this sense pick up on the penitential associations of monochromatic art, in a reproducible medium and with the formal qualities that Warhol employed ever since he designed advertisements early in his career. Like Hosea’s Israelites, of whom he complains that the more they increased the less they listened, Warhol’s work in essence explores the same concept by using a mass reproduced text/image aimed at a rapidly increasing American population, an audience that was possibly equally inattentive.  

The positive and negative versions of Warhol’s work furthermore emphasize that his audience has a choice, one leading towards light, the other to darkness. Perhaps the ‘mirror’ held up to his generation, to which Richardson’s eulogy referred, was most confrontational in Warhol’s last works, especially Repent and Sin No More!.

 

References:

Richardson, John. 1992. ‘Eulogy for Andy Warhol’, in Andy Warhol: Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away! Late Paintings and Related Works, 1984–1986 (New York: Rizzoli), p. 140

Sliwka, Jennifer. 2017. ‘Painting the Sacred’, in Monochrome: Painting in Black a White by Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka (London: National Gallery), p. 27