One of Warhol's most significant creations was his own public persona, which combined an almost pathological need for media exposure with the opaque demeanor of the catatonic. By the end of the 1960s Warhol had embedded his spectral visage and blank gaze in the national consciousness. Simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, ubiquitous and invisible, Warhol's complete negation of the self allowed his work to function as a kind of mirror, reflecting with a hallucinatory clarity the foibles and vanities of our time.
Much of Warhol's work can be read as a meditation on the transience of life, from his iconic portrayals of a stoically suffering Jacqueline Kennedy to his paintings of skulls from the mid-1970s. Eyes closed and with an unearthly pallor, the artist appears in this late self-portrait as the martyred saint, suspended between the agonies of the flesh and the blinding white light of the afterlife. Stripped of the guises and camouflage that characterize many of his other self-portraits, this riveting picture is idiosyncratic in its candor and directness; strangely, it seems both to refer back to the attempt made on his life in 1968 and to chillingly prefigure his untimely death in 1987.