Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Andy Warhol’

06 MAY, 2014

A Graphic Biography of Warhol

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Who shot Marilyn, and other illustrated anecdotes of Warhol’s fallible humanity.

As a lover of graphic biographies, including those of Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman, Hunter S. Thompson, Steve Jobs, and the human brain, I was delighted for the release of This is Warhol (public library) — the first installment in a new series of graphic biographies of thirty famous artists by Scottish art historian Catherine Ingram. What makes the concept especially appealing is that, unlike most art history books, which tend to be either dry textbooks to be studied or lavish monograph-artifacts to be owned and admired, Ingram’s approach embodies Tolstoy’s assertion that art is about emotional infectiousness. She tells a living story, at once illuminating and vibrantly human, rather than weaving a static tapestry of facts. The result is a book that’s inviting without compromising its intelligence.

Alongside Ingram’s exploration of Warhol’s life and times — from his upbringing to the founding and denizenry of the Factory to how the “electric information age” shaped his aesthetic — is appropriately poptastic artwork by British illustrator Andrew Rae.

One of the most amusing anecdotes bespeaks how fluidly Warhol moved between art and life — how swiftly he integrated the two and how he experienced the latter as a smaller concentric circle that belongs, always and at all costs, inside the latter — but also how profoundly the backstory affects the way we confer value on art:

Four Marilyn silkscreens feature bullet holes through the idol’s forehead. How this came about is related by one of Andy’s groupies: “One day, Dorothy arrived, dressed in leather, with several friends in leather, and a Great Dane in his natural leather pelt. She peeled off her long leather gloves, pulled out her pistol, aimed at Warhol. Then at the last split second she shifted her aim to the stack of Marilyn Monroe portraits against the wall and fired.”

“Dorothy” was Dorothy Podber. When she left, Warhol turned to Billy Name, and said, “Please don’t let Dorothy do that again.” Once described as a “marvelous, evil woman,” Dorothy had a serious drug problem, and for a while she ran an illegal abortion clinic. She was banned from the Factory. The incident was a foreboding warning — four years later Factory-goer and feminist Valerie Solanas would enter the factory and shoot Warhol in the chest. Warhol decided that the damaged canvases should not be repaired. Sold as “The Shot Marilyns,” they raised the highest prices of all the Marilyn portraits.

Many of the stories, besides satisfying an art-lover’s craving for trivia factlets, speak to larger truths about the creative process — both Warhol’s own and in a general sense. For instance, the impetus for his famous 1966 Silver Clouds installation is a testament to the “slow churn” of creativity and the subconscious, long-term incubation of ideas: The idea for the show came to Warhol from a tea party he had attended at Salvador Dalí’s hotel suite a year earlier, where he had seen silver balloons floating around the room. Ingram, with her gift for metaphoric thinking that runs throughout the book, brings this back to Warhol’s biography:

There is an inherent fragility about the [Silver Clouds] installation: some balloons burst, all of them eventually deflated. The scene at the Factory was another silver bubble waiting to burst. For years the silent Warhol had held everyone’s attention. However, by the mid 1960s, as one reporter tells, “The waspish, silvery-haired Maharishi was in trouble, deep trouble. His world suddenly stopped caring, stopped knowing.”

Alongside Warhol’s ample commercial work are some of his side projects, such as Wild Raspberries, the little-known illustrated cookbook on which he collaborated with his mother and the legendary interior decorator Suzie Frankfurt.

Warhol’s world was the original golden age of the selfie, and the artist was among the first to embody what Susan Sontag would later call the “aesthetic consumerism” of photography. Ingram writes:

The self-portrait is a radical piece of art that embraces popular culture. Warhol uses a photo booth — the public camera found in railway stations and shopping malls that delivers cheap photos, “four-for-a-quarter” — and finds beauty in the throwaway, the intense, almost square frame and the sequence of stills, depicting a development in time.

Warhol promises nothing more than what the photomat delivers: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” However, that glossy surface is provocative. Described by many as a mirror, Warhol reflects the vacuousness of modern society in high resolution.

This is Warhol comes from British independent publisher Laurence King, who previously gave us the magnificent Saul Bass monograph and the fantastic series 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Film, 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture, 100 Ideas That Changed Photography, and 100 Ideas That Changed Art.

Illustrations courtesy of Laurence King

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20 NOVEMBER, 2013

Wild Raspberries: Young Andy Warhol’s Little-Known Vintage Cookbook

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The story of a labor-of-love masterpiece that lay dormant for nearly half a century.

In the spring of 1959, legendary interior decorator and bohemian hostess Suzie Frankfurt came across the work of a young artist at one of the occasional art exhibits held at Manhattan’s Serendipity ice cream parlor. She was unfamiliar with him but was immediately taken with his whimsical watercolors of flowers and butterflies. The artist, it turned out, was Andy Warhol, who was working as an art director at Doubleday at the time and illustrating his little-known children’s books shortly before he invented himself as Andy Warhol.

Intrigued, Frankfurt got herself an appointment to be introduced to young Warhol and went to meet him in the fourth-floor walkup he shared with his mother, Julia Warhola. She recounts that fateful encounter:

I shall never forget that meeting. Andy greeted me as if we had known each other for years. He was especially fascinated by the fat I grew up in Malibu and had lived next door to [the actress] Myrna Loy. He also loved the fact I collected antique jewelry. I felt we had become new best friends in an instant. We made a lunch date for the following day, and that was how it started.

They became fast friends — a wavelength alignment only solidified when, one day, Warhol went to Frankfurt’s apartment for dinner and brought her a gold vermeil rose from Tiffany; she promptly filled a Coke bottle with water and put the rose in it — an act that especially delighted Warhol. By the fall, they had decided to collaborate on a series of handmade books that mocked the fashionable, mass-produced French cuisine cookbooks popular in the 1950s. Frankfurt wrote some recipes, Warhol illustrated them with his Dr. Martin’s paints, and his mother did the calligraphy. Wanting all the books to be hand-colored, they hired four boys who lived upstairs to come down every afternoon and do the coloring. So painstaking was the process that they were only able to produce 34 full-color books, which they took downtown for the rabbis to do the hand-binding. The result was nothing short of mesmerizing. But to the duo’s disappointment, the dream that New York’s booksellers would flood them with orders never materialized — instead, they left a few of their labor-of-love masterpieces for consignment at Doubleday and Rizzoli, and gave the rest away as Christmas presents to friends.

And so Wild Raspberries (public library), titled after the movie Wild Strawberries, lay dormant for more than forty years, until Frankfurt’s son, Jaime, discovered the cultural treasure in his mother’s papers and published it in 1997.

What’s perhaps most noteworthy about the cookbook, however, is that it became a laboratory in which Warhol perfected the process he would later instill in the heart of the Factory: He drew the pictures, a team of assistants colored them in, Frankfurt wrote the recipes, and Warhol’s mother transcribed them — an almost industrial production model in which Warhol conducted an orchestra of collaborators. Jaime Frankfurt writes of the process in the foreword:

Like a great chef, he would create the art, and then direct an assembly line of assistants to put it together.

As for the recipes, they cater more to the artistic than the culinary — more to expressionism than to realism. One instructs that you call Trader Vic’s, order a 40-pound suckling pig, then “have Hanley take the Carey Cadillac to the side entrance and receive the pig.” Frankfurt’s son captures their singular allure:

Clearly, [the recipes] won’t help with your cooking, but they are indicative of all of Andy’s work: they are immediate. … Wild Raspberries, like everything Warhol did, is about finished product, not about process.

For more unusual vintage cookbooks at the intersection of art and cuisine, complement Wild Raspberries with The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, an illustrated edition of the Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook, the Alice in Wonderland Cookbook, the James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book illustrated by the Provensens, the Liberace cookbook, and Mimi Sheraton’s impossibly delightful Seducer’s Cookbook.

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11 NOVEMBER, 2013

Lou Reed on Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Laurie Anderson, Setting Edgar Allan Poe to Music, and Why Record Labels Deserve to Die

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“Making things that are beautiful is real fun.”

In February of 2012, the late and great Lou Reed, already severely ill and awaiting a liver transplant , visited the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater, as a guest at the Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium — an annual event inviting prominent musicians, including Patti Smith (whose recent tribute to Reed is pure goosebumps), Loudon Wainwright, and Roseanne Cash, to perform and discuss their work. Reed’s conversation with Rolling Stone critic Anthony deCurtis, author of the excellent In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work, is one of his last recorded live interviews. Here are the essential highlights from the interview, in which Reed radiates his singular fusion of irreverence, insight, and uncompromising creative genius.

On Andy Warhol and the birth of The Velvet Underground:

Warhol was what you would call a workaholic. … And he worked — people have no idea. … He was an astonishing person. When you consider what he was like when he was doing art direction in windows and all that — with the suit, the tie, the whole thing. And then, one day, PHOOM! He’s not Andy Warhol anymore — now he’s Andy Warhol, he’s in Levis and the wig and the jacket — fantastic! He created himself — you gotta love it.

Reed doesn’t conceal his contempt for the music labels, who didn’t like or even listen to the very music they were selling:

All these record companies deserve to go bankrupt. They’re all, you know, lying sacks of shit. No joke — these are bad guys, they deserve everything that’s happened to them.

On Bob Dylan:

On his wife, the artist and musician Laurie Anderson, whose remembrance of Reed is one of the most soul-stirring meditations on love and loss ever written (“And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.”):

She’s so smart and can do anything — anything she does is absolutely great. It’s amazing.

On balancing raw force and raw vulnerability in his music and writing:

I like conflict — it’s balance. Or, like tai chi, balance is like the yin and the yang. Even a song like “Perfect Day” — the kick is at the end, the last verse: “I thought I was someone else, someone good.”

Illustration by Lorenzo Mattotti from The Raven by Lou Reed. Click image for details.

On adapting literary works to music and rewriting Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry in his 2003 album The Raven and the companion graphic novel:

The trouble with Poe was that his language is so serious — the vocabulary — the words he’s using — some of those words were arcane when he used them — and then, architectural terms from Greece. And I, dutifully sitting there with the dictionary, looking all of this up and thinking, certainly, in a song or on the album I don’t want to have [things like this] in there — you can just as easily use a word someone knows what it means. … For him, great. For me, no. I spent most of the time translating them into English before even starting, but I couldn’t wait to rewrite “The Raven,” the poem. Mine is like a contemporary version of it, and we have a graphic novel out … illustrated by this great Italian artist, Lorenzo Mattotti. … Making things that are beautiful is real fun.

The Raven is absolutely fantastic — here’s a taste:

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