According to Bob Colacello, the shadows in the Shadow paintings were shadows of male erections. (BC429)
Andy Warhol refers to "Shadows paintings of cocks and assholes" in his Diary:
Andy Warhol (Diary, August 30, 1977):
Victor came in and he started dragging out the Shadow paintings of cocks and assholes hat I've been doing - the paintings all the "landscapes" have been posing for - and somebody had to tell him not to. (AWD66)
Andy Warhol (Diary, November 7, 1977):
Jed came by the office and was in the back in my working area and when he saw the stack of Polaroids of all the "landscapes" i photographed for the Shadow paintings - all the closeups of cocks and things - he began screaming that I had degenerated so low to be spending my time that way and he left, really upset, and it ruined my afternoon. (AWD86)
Ronnie Cutrone, Andy Warhol's art assistant at the time, claimed that he originally suggested the idea of the Shadow paintings to Warhol:
"Andy had a burning desire to do abstract art. Although he abandoned different experiments with it, he still wanted to do abstract art. So I said, 'Look, if you're really serious about this, when I was in art school I had all these ideas that I'll never do. You know, I don't worship abstract art because I grew up in a different generation.'
Andy said, 'Well, what are they?'
And I said, 'You're Andy Warhol; you should paint something that is something, but it's not.'
He said, 'Oh, come on Ronnie. What do you mean? Come on.'
And I said, 'Well, you should paint shadows. You love shadows anyway. They're all in your work. I've got this notebook. I've got drawings of nothing in it, drawings of shadows that things cast.'
Andy asked, 'You mean like real objects casting shadows?'
And I said, 'No, that's too figurative. I'll show you. I'll cut up different things, pieces of cardboard, I'll throw shadows on white seamless and treat them for you.'
He said, 'Oh, good, start today.'
I had 150 shadow photographs on contact sheets twelve days later. We picked some of them out and then he asked me to mix the colors for them. So I mixed aubergine and chartreuse and carmine red and yellow and midnight blue, like Yves Klein blue, and white (you don't mix white but we did white paintings). Andy and I always shared the same color sensibility so that part was never difficult for me...I would go to work for eight hours a day and think, 'What color would I mix if I was Andy Warhol?' It was a game to me." (UW61)
There were 102 six-foot Shadow paintings on display at the Friedrich Gallery for the exhibition that took place January 27 - March 10, 1979. (BC429) The large paintings were installed by Ronnie Cutrone with the help of abstract painter Steven Mueller. They were hung "butted up against each other, one after the other all around the space... according to space and color." (UW61)
Eighty of the paintings were purchased by the Dia Art Foundation which was founded in 1974 by Heiner Freidrich and the de Menil's youngest daughter, Philippa. The price of the paintings was $20,000 each for a total of $1.6 million. (BC429)
The Shadow paintings owned by the Dia Foundation are housed in their museum located on the Hundson River in Beacon, Duchess County, New York which opened in 2003.