Warhol likely based this painting on a film still from the 1960 movie Flaming Star. It is one of twenty-three Elvis canvases that were first exhibited at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1963 Warhol's second show there. Apparently too busy to frame the works himself, Warhol sent a roll of canvas silkscreened with repeating images of Elvis, stretcher bars of various sizes, and directions to cut the canvas into segments however the gallery saw fit. Warhol's Elvis canvases were his first to feature multiple, overlapping figures, a formal device that almost makes it seem as if the singer-actor's likeness is moving or flickering against the silver-screen background.
Gallery label from Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans and Other Works, 1953–1967, April 25–October 18, 2015.
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.