Note: Illusion publishes this review for entertainment and journalistic purposes, however, remains neutral concerning opinions expressed by the author.
Tackling Andy Warhol is like tackling the Bible. Both remain eternally open to interpretation, offering more slants than there are cable channels. You get one take from the faithful, one from the faithless, and then all those shades in between.
Warhol stories, like those found in the Good Book, present a mix of facts and myths that are difficult to distill. It makes for a fascinating pastime, distinguishing the significant from the trivial. Chew on the following entries and decide for yourself—which are substance and which are fluff?
Top: A screen print of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol.
Left: “Self-Portrait with Skull” (1977). Right: Warhol’s painting entitled “The Broad Gave Me My Face But I Can Pick My Own Nose” (1949).
Thou Shalt Shock
If a gallery exhibition was held in the forest, and no one attended, how would you make a sale? Warhol got hip to the value of shock and controversy early on. During his senior year at Carnegie Tech, a juried exhibition rejected his painting, “The Broad Gave Me My Face But I Can Pick My Own Nose.” Just before graduation, Warhol gained his fair share of attention at a student show with the piece tactfully renamed, “Don’t Pick On Me.”
Warhol’s 1950 blotted line drawing of a cat named Sam.
The Blotted Line
Warhol made his first commercial splash with a signature, illustration style of broken, imperfect lines. Madison Avenue and editorial offices wondered how he achieved this “blotted line” technique.
Warhol developed this down and dirty printing method while at Carnegie Tech. After creating his drawing, he traced it using thickly applied ink, then blotted that onto another sheet. The technique created a reversed copy full of partial lines and other imperfections. The effect appeared loose and rough at the same time, and wholly Warhol.
Top: Director Warhol lets the camera roll for another screen test. Bottom: Dennis Hooper takes this picture of the pop artist (see left) and other members of the Factory.
Filmmaker Warhol got the notion to create the celluloid equivalent of canvas portraits. In 1964, he began shooting anyone and everyone who passed through his studio, cranking more than 400 screen tests in two years. Silent and static, these filmed studies captured countless faces long forgotten. He also recorded a few notables, including Allen Ginsberg, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Salvador Dali.
Most of Warhol’s screen tests reveal a self-conscious subject who had no idea what to do—many times Warhol seated his subject, turned on the camera, and simply walked away.
Left: Warhol dresses up as Robin for an Esquire photo shoot. Image © Globe Photos. Right: Captain Merrill Stubing and the artist take a snapshot on the set of “The Love Boat.”
In His Own Image
Consider Warhol as the artist farmer, endlessly cultivating images. No image deserved more attention than his own, and you could never take an Andy sighting for granted. Was it contrived? Done for amusement? Pure ego? You never knew for sure, and that was part of the kick.
Warhol’s looks and their contexts varied wildly. Who expected him to show up in the photo-shoot montage opposite Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie?” Or on “The Love Boat?” He donned one of the biggest cowboy hats ever seen while filming his “Lonesome Cowboys,” and he even dressed up as Robin to Nico’s Batman for an Esquire photo shoot in 1967. And then there’s that wonderful, icon-revisited cover for Esquire by George Lois, featuring Warhol drowning in a whirlpool of Campbell’s Tomato Soup (see below).
A 1969 Esquire magazine cover with Warhol.
Soup is Good Warhol
Two subjects launched Warhol into superstar stratosphere: suicide and soup. The suicide link was obvious enough to any Hollywood and pop culture junkie. When Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, she became a natural addition to his silk screening work.
So why Campbell’s Soup? Conceptually, it jives with his take on The Real Thing. Critic Arthur Danto put it this way: “All Coca-Colas are alike. And all Coca-Colas are good. If you’re the queen of England, you couldn’t have a better Coca-Cola than the bum on the corner.”
Choosing the brand of soup proved even more basic. Warhol’s eldest brother, Paul Warhola, explained it simply: “Mother always served Campbell’s Soup. She always had a good supply.” Any favorites, you might ask? “Andy was fond of Chicken noodle and chicken rice.”
All photos © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, NY and DACS, and/or respective owners.