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Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

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page nine

Fred Lawrence Guiles: Although Pittsburgh was a far cry from from Greenwich Village, it did have its ‘Villagy’ types. Some were the genuine article like the Balcomb Greenes. He was an important Abstract Expressionist from New York, who came to Pittsburgh one term each year to show art slides and lecture in a course he called Humanities, Arts and Civilization, which Pearlstein recalled as always putting Andy and himself to sleep… (FG39)

Jack Wilson: … Balcomb Greene… taught the history of art. But I do remember Balcomb Greene’s reference at the time to Moholy-Nagy. It was almost in a derogatory sense. I mean, Moholy-Nagy, even to us, was considered a great teacher… (PSC19)

Fred Lawrence Guiles: The Greenes (he called his wife ‘Peter,’ although she was Gertrude Glass, the sculptress) had helped a local woman, Betty Rockwell Raphael, open a gallery called ‘The Outline,’ [Outlines] where every Sunday night during that fabulous summer of 1947 the avant-gardists, including all the artists’ barn’s tenants, Ellie Leonard, ‘Pappy’ Kessler and his sister, Corinne ‘Corky’ Kessler, would convene for a cultural event. (FG39)

Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael (Outlines owner): I studied painting in college and became very enthusiastic about it. I wanted to tell the rest of the world what painting was all about and [after] I graduated from Sarah Lawrence I came back to Pittsburgh to do it ... I wanted to have not just exhibits, but also events – i.e., lectures, concerts, slide shows, films, everything. (FR)

Fred Lawrence Guiles: [Philip] Pearlstein described these gallery affairs as ‘marvelous programs… and we saw Maya Deren, filmmaker and dancer, a lot of experimental film, John Cage, and all of these were exciting.’ (FG39)

Matt Wrbican: They (Orin and Betty Raphael of the Outlines gallery) were friendly to some degree with Duchamp (they owned a deluxe Boîte-en-valise), Maya Deren (she enlisted them in her filmmaking, and shot a lot of footage of them in Pittsburgh, some of which was shown at the gallery in December 1945), and a host of others. They brought these folks (or their work) to Pittsburgh for either talks or exhibitions: Cornell, Buckminster Fully, Moholy-Nagy, Langston Hughes, Gyorgy Kepes, Breuer, Wright, Corbusier, dozens more… They also showed films once a week, presented concerts and music recitals, and plays by Garcia Lorca, Cocteau and others. They also had exhibitions of silkscreen art, which Warhol almost certainly would have seen! The Gallery had 3 various addresses over time… and one location was only a few blocks from his family’s home. (E30/7/09)

Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael: … first I arranged a general show of Post Impressionist to Abstract art. This was held at 341 Boulevard of the Allies… Eventually we moved to the 2nd floor of the Playhouse because the rent was cheap. We were in the space that’s now called the Studio Theater. After a while we moved back into downtown to Oliver Avenue at Wood Street. Only three things sold the whole time the gallery was open. It’s easy to remember what they were, a Roualt block print bought by Catherine Casey; a couple of Albers prints that I sold for $10 apiece. I kept giving Albers away to my friends for engagement and wedding presents. I haven’t one left. Also some Calder jewelry was sold. His jewelry ranged in price from $10 to $50. It was all silver… We closed in October of 1947. (FR)

Matt Wrbican: About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to study a small group of papers from the family that operated the gallery, and in them (among many other wonderful things – that gallery was remarkable) I discovered… three [John] Cage dates in a (12-page) typewritten ‘chronology’ a month-by-month accounting of the events hosted by the gallery… according to that document, on April 6, 1943 Cage gave a ‘lecture/recital;’ on June 24, 1945 Cage and [Merce] Cunningham ‘recital and dance program’ (a few days after Warhol graduated high school), and on May 25, 1947 (when Warhol would’ve been completing his sophomore year of college) the Outlines gallery presented a ‘lecture and concert’ by Cage and Masselos. (E30/6/09)

[Note: Another performance was mentioned in the 24 May 1946 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which announced that a performance of Cage and Merce Cunninham would take place on 19 June 1946 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. An online source,  “A John Cage Compendium,” indicates that Cage spent the summer of 1946 in Pittsburgh, living at 5851 Forbes Street and lists a Cage/Cunningham performance at the Pittsburgh Playhouse on June 25, 1946 "presented by Genevieve Jones" (Paul van Emmerik in collaboration with Herbert Henck and András Wilheim, A John Cage Compendium, 2003-2008 Paul van Emmerik, (accessed 16 April 2012) g.c.)

Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael: John Cage and Merce Cunningham… came here to do a program together. John played the piano and Merce danced. Many people came to see them and asked so many questions afterwards, they thought there might be enough interest in Pittsburgh to hold a class in composition and a workshop in dance. So John had a composition class of about 15 and Merce had a slightly larger group for dance. They rented an apartment near the Playhouse, where the gallery was at that time. John thought Pittsburgh was the most wonderful place – they could look out their window and see the steel mills. They stayed for about 6 weeks. (FR)

Emma Lavigne (Curator at the Pompidou Centre, Paris): Whenever Andy Warhol was asked about the possible relationship between his work and that of John Cage, he often merely gave the enigmatic and laconic reply, ‘yeah, I think so, ‘ enthusing that ‘I think he’s really marvelous’ and ‘great’ but neglecting to explain further the profound influence of a chord struck by Cage’s ideas on some of his serial works and films. Although it is unlikely that Warhol attended the first lecture-recital given by Cage in Pittsburgh on April 6, 1943, it is possible that he was present at the second concert and dance performance by Cage and Merce Cunningham on June 24, 1945, three months before going to college. He disclosed, ‘When I was a kid… John Cage came – I guess I met him when I was fifteen or something like that… I didn’t know about music.’ It is probably safe to assume that Warhol went to a third lecture and concert given by Cage in Pittsburgh, with the pianist William Masselos. (EL86)

Andy Warhol to Benjamin H.D. Buchloh (28 May 1985): When I was a kid, you know, John Cage came – I guess I met him when I was fifteen or something like that… (BB121)

Benjamin H.D. Buchloh to Andy Warhol: … how did you start serial repetition as a formal structure? (BB120)

Andy Warhol: Well, I mean, I just made one screen and repeated it over and over again… (BB121)

Benjamin H.D. Buchloh: …. So it had nothing to do with a general concern for seriality? It was not coming out of John Cage and concepts of musical seriality…? (BB121)

Andy Warhol: … I didn’t know he did serial things… I didn’t know about music. (BB121)

Bennard B. Perlman: During 1947-48, Andy’s six hours of pictorial design were split between two instructors, Robert L. Lepper and Howard L. Worner, who were opposites in almost every way. Leper had been teaching at Carnegie Tech, his alma mater, for seventeen years; Worner had just left a job as art director for the Armstrong Cork Company to replace Roy Hilton on the Tech faculty. Professor Lepper stressed the conceptual, Professor Worner the practical side of problem solving. And while Lepper labeled Andy ‘the least likely to succeed,’ Worner called him ‘the only student with a saleable product.’ (BP157)

Adrian McCoy (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist): Howard L. Worner was one of the country's leading industrial artists. He spent most of his working life in the heart of American industry - in Pittsburgh. And his work documents the industrial history of the city he called home for so many years... He joined the painting and design faculty at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts in 1947 and taught there for 32 years. Many generations of art and design students - including Andy Warhol - were in his classes. He loved teaching because, as he put it, his students kept him young. (AMC)

Lorie A. Annarella: In 1947 he [Worner] accpted an appointment as Assistant Professor of Painting and Design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now, Carnegie-Mellon University), where he taught for 31 years. One of his more famous students was Andy Warhol, who took his Pictorial Illustration class. (LA4-5)

James Warhola: Andy's teacher Howard Worner is a very good friend of mine. He was Andy's teacher for a short time and remembers him very clearly. He has told me a lot of beautiful stories. He doesn't claim any credit for Andy's success - as far as that's concerned he's very humble. He always said that Andy would be successful because he has something to say. This is similar to the famous comment from another of his teachers, Professor Lepper, who said that Andy would be the last on the list of artists to achieve everything. It's interesting because these teachers were precise opposites. Robert Lepper was very intellctual, very expressive, with him there were always long discussions about painting, while Howard Warner's teaching methonds were more practical. He taught drawing, processes and media. He taught how to draw, how to paint and how to illustrate. he was a very successful illustrator himself.

Another teacher who springs to mind is Sam Rosenberg who gained a generally good reputation in Pittsburgh at the university. He was very popular among the students. And also Russell Twiggs. (RU114-116)

Patrick Smith to Andy Warhol (6 November 1978): Who was your favorite or most memorable teacher at Carnegie Tech?... How about [Robert] Lepper?...

Andy Warhol to Patrick Smith: I don’t think he ever taught me. I’m not sure. Maybe he did. I don’t remember… Lepper… I may have had him. I can’t remember because there were, ah, you know, two sections, and half the kids got one person and half the kids got another person. I’m not sure… [Philip Pearlstein] had gone to school before me, and… he had Lepper, I think, before that. Maybe we did. I can’t remember. (PS514-5)

Rainer Crone: [Robert Lepper] supervised the Pictorial Design course in which Warhol had chosen to major, with eighteen hours per week, from 1947 to 1949… Lepper assumed that the most effective source of pictorial motives exists in the total environment, or the social organism.... If we look at one of Warhol’s early watercolors, from 1947-8… it is easy to see how Warhol dealt pictorially with the ideas he obtained from Lepper... Lepper assures us that this drawing [Miranda and Maria at the Races, 1947 (Andy Warhol)] refers to the collection of short stories entitled Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter… This watercolour by the young Warhol depicts a key scene from the short novel entitled Old Mortality… The second section which forms the basis for Warhol’s watercolor, focuses on the fourteen-year-old Miranda and on Maria during their time at a convent school, a place which they detest. Provided they have been well behaved, they are permitted out on weekends, in the company of their cousin or father, to attend horse races. On this particular weekend their dark-haired father arrives, speaking to them ‘in his easiest paternal manner,’ to collect them for a visit to the races, at which the legendary Uncle Gabriel has entered a mare. Saturdays are the high point of the week for Miranda and Maria, and on this occasion they have put on their ‘high-topped laced up black shoes,’ and are feeling ‘worldly and grown up,’ going to the races with their father, in the company of ‘beautifully dressed’ ladies and elegant gentlemen ‘with their yellow gloves’…

In the course of Porter’s narrative, references to erotic sexual problems and relationships are always indirect and subliminal. Miranda, who by the end of the story has become a disappointed eighteen-year-old whose opinion of herself is a bitter, prematurely aged woman… is told by her cousin Eva that the main occupation at the age of young women like Aunt Amy was nothing more than sublimated sex: ‘It was just sex…. Their minds dwelt on nothing else. They didn’t call it that, it was all smothered under pretty names, but that’s all it was, sex.’

… one characteristic feature of Warhol’s style, the way that he suggests the outline of the female breast beneath clothing, is an aspect that presupposes a knowledge and study of Grosz’s drawings… Grosz enjoyed considerable esteem as an ‘American’ figure in art, nominated by Look magazine as one of the ten best American artists of 1948. Life Ben Shahn, Grosz was, according to Lepper, ‘A prevailing hero of the period.’ Pearlstein maintains that Warhol was influenced by Ben Shahn and other similar artists in this group. It was during this period that Shahn held his first major one-man exhibition in The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Mention should also be made of similarities to portrayals of the human figure by Thomas Hart Benton, especially in his painting The Poker Night Scene, depicting Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, a Broadway success and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1948. (RCA38/44-48)

[Note: Crone notes that Lepper “supervised the Pictorial Design course in which Warhol had chosen to major, with eighteen hours per week, from 1947 to 1949, Warhol’s last two years at Carnegie Tech.” (RCA38) g.c.]

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