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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 ten

Bennard B. Perlman: During his (Warhol’s) Junior year [1947-1948], twice as many class hours were spent in painting and drawing as in design, and [instructor] Sam Rosenberg encouraged experimentation and artistic freedom… Rosenberg brought the work of the social realist artist [Ben Shahn] to our attention and mentioned the Shahn retrospective then at The Museum of Modern Art in New York [September 30, 1947-January 4, 1948]. Andy admired Shahn’s work…(MO/BP158)

Howard Greenfeld (Ben Shahn biographer): Critical response to the [Ben Shahn] retrospective was mixed… there was one review that must have bothered him [Shahn]: a frequently condescending and often vicious attack in the November 1 issue of The Nation by Clement Greenberg… in Greenberg’s view Ben was more a photographer than a painter… Greenberg saw no place for Shahn in the future of American art. The Abstract Expressionists – a term first applied in 1946 to the work of a rather diverse group of artists, once known as the ‘New York painters,’ by Robert M. Coates in The New Yorker – constituted the wave of that future… Ben was far removed from this movement and to many critics his work appeared old-fashioned. His art, however, remained very much in demand. It seems that there was a buyer as soon as each painting was finished and his prices were rising steadily.  (HG219-20)

Jack Wilson: He [Warhol] actually mentioned Ben Shahn with great admiration. (PSC11)

Frances K. Pohl (Shahn biographer): While Shahn drew extensively on his store of photographs for ideas for his paintings throughout the forties, by the end of the decade the relationship between the two had become a point of contention for the artist. (FP56)

James Thrall Soby (Director of MoMA retrospective): In brief, Shahn uses photography as other artists use preliminary sketches… (JS13)

Jack Wilson: You know, in Drawing [class] he [Warhol] was discouraged [from using] photographic copy with a camera… But toward the end, Andy would go through Life magazine and he would tear sheets. He was the only one who did it… Andy’s drawings are technically very correct because he used photographic copy. He used scrap intelligently. He would do a mouth, then he would draw it, then he would get the teeth, and you [could] count the molars in there. And he would be correct because he was very accurate. It wouldn’t be like a Picasso, where it’s just all symbolism. (PSC8-9)

Fred Lawrence Guiles: In the summer of 1948 [after Warhol’s Junior year], Andy and Philip went to New York on an exploratory trip. They stayed with George Klauber, a former classmate from Carnegie Tech who had returned to his native Brooklyn after little more than a year in Pittsburgh. Klauber believed that they both determined during that visit to make their careers in Manhattan. (FG39-40)

[Note: Klauber was a student at Carnegie Tech during his sophomore year only. He later went on to become an art director in NYC. (PSC21) g.c.]

Philip Pearlstein: We made a couple of trips together, by train and bus, carrying our stuff in shopping bags. We were broke. (HR)

Jesse Kornbluth (Journalist and author of Pre-Pop Warhol): Warhol had been to New York… during his Carnegie years, with Pearlstein and Elias and a few other friends. They made a pilgrimage to the Museum of Modern Art, where they saw their first Picassos. It was on this trip that Warhol first revealed how star-crazed he was – although it certainly sounds unlikely, he told friends he’d had a chess date with none other than Marcel Duchamp. (JK42)

Andy Warhol: Phillip Pearlstein was going to New York during a semester break, so I took a shopping bag and we took a bus. We took our portfolios and showed them around New York to see if we could get jobs. The lady from Glamour, Tina Fredericks, said that when I got out of school she'd give me a job. (GO235)

Bennard B. Perlman: By his senior year, Andy Warhol had become a legend in the department. When the art students invited the faculty to their ‘Take It Easel Club’ spoof, dubbed ‘Oaklandhoma,’ the instructors countered by parading before the students, each carrying a copy of the same painting to suggest that we all copied Andy.

Despite this acclaim, Andy remained as shy and retiring as ever – a listener, an observer, a loner, always the odd man out when a group of students got together and paired off. He never participated in social dancing but he did join the college’s Modern Dance Club, even though its stated policy was that ‘Every woman registered at Carnegie Institute of Technology is eligible for membership.’ Andy was the lone male.

Club members danced to music from a record player, and Andy tried to keep up with the others but appeared awkward and uncoordinated. He came into art class one day with his elbows bruised from learning to fall, yet he never tired of observing the co-eds demonstrating the techniques of expression through movement. Soon dance entered his art as a subject matter. A 1948 greeting card he designed showed a smiling figure assuming five dance positions, (captioned ‘Merry Christ-mas and Happy New Year from André’) and an oil, Dancers, contained simplified, stylized flat-pattern figures based loosely on Picasso’s Three Dancers of 1925. (BP159)

George Klauber (Fellow student): I entered Carnegie as a sophomore after a year at Pratt. I was with Andy’s and Philip [Pearlstein]’s class, and I was good friends with them even at that time… I went back to Pratt, but I stayed in contact with both Andy and Philip …. I first saw Andy’s blotted-line in a Christmas card that he sent me in 1948… Then he subsequently used it for a whole career. (PSC21-2)

(Note: Klauber was a student at Carnegie Tech during his sophomore year only. He later went on to become an art director in NYC. (PSC21) g.c.)

Vito Giallo (Warhol’s commercial art assistant): … the blotted line... was extremely simple - he just took a piece of Strathmore paper and folded it in half and on the left he would do the pencil drawing and then take pen and ink - india ink - and then slowly go over the line and blot it over and then go back and forth to get a perfect register. And so, in the end, we would have the copy more or less and then the original we would tear off and throw away. (CR)

(Note: Giallo worked for Warhol during 1955-1956. (TK79/86) Previously, he had co-founded the Loft Gallery where Warhol exhibited at least three times in 1954. g.c.)

Ingrid Schaffner (Senior curator at the ICA, Pennsylvania): How does he do it? Make a drawing in pencil. Go over it in ink, and while the ink is still drying, press down with another piece of paper. Voila: The blotted impression you lift up is the new original. (ISC2)

Robert Galster (graphic artist): I tried it. I tried blotting a few lines, and it didn't work for me at all. Mine didn't look like fake Andy Warhols. They looked just like blotty lines. So, he had it under control someway. (PS303)

Bennard B. Perlman:  Confined to bed [during his childhood illness in 1937]… his brother Paul showed him how to put wax over the surface of a comic strip, turn it over on a piece of paper, and rub the back in order to transfer the image. Although the wording came out backwards, Andy was always excited by the results. (BP148)

Nathan Gluck: The blotting technique was basically a forerunner of silkscreen – in other words, he moved from one kind of multiple to a more professional kind of multiple. (UW31)

Rainer Crone: Two [blotted line] drawings by Warhol are available as examples of the final project [of Robert Lepper’s course], the Long Novel … The novel All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, which forms the basis for these drawings covers the career of Governor Huey Long… Warhol’s drawings were made in 1948-1949. This makes them the first known examples (terminus post quem) of the blotted line technique… (RCA43-44)

[Note: It’s unknown whether the works were done before or after George Klauber’s Christmas card (see above) or the November 1948 front cover of CANO (see below) – both of which featured Warhol’s blotted line. g.c.]

Rainer Crone: Even at this stage the blotted line is significant, because it reveals that it was not during his period as a commercial artist but during his studies that Warhol first tackled the problems of reproduction techniques, and investigated the medium as such. Lepper refers to a ‘flood of new materials and techniques (larger than the Bauhaus model)’ during this time, and explains the origins of the blotted line as the result of Warhol’s economic situation during his time in Pittsburgh. Acutely short of funds, Warhol was obliged to use the cheapest drawing paper, and this caused the ink to run. Warhol immediately appreciated the graphic attractions of such a line, and thus evolved this technique, which was both original and aesthetically satisfying…

Of course there is a stylistic similarity to Ben Shahn’s manually produced broken line… the decisive difference is that Shahn achieved his line by his own manual intervention, whereas Warhol’s blotted line drawings were accomplished using a technique of reproduction, though still a primitive one. (RCA44)

Andy Warhol: Well, it was just that I didn't like the way I drew. I guess we had to do an ink blot or something, and then I realized you can do an ink blot and do that kind of look, and then it would look printed somehow. (PSC336)

Bennard B. Perlman: During his senior year, Andy ventured into extracurricular activities, becoming art editor of Cano, the school’s new creative writing monthly. Although he produced numerous spot drawings to accompany articles and as a filler, his most notable contribution was a cover design for the November 1948 issue, in which fifteen violinists were placed in rows across the entire surface. Each musician has a round, oversized head and is depicted in blotted outlines placed against a bright red background.… (BP160)

Dieter Koepplin (Art historian and curator): For issue VII of the Carnegie Tech student magazine CANO, which appeared in November 1948 (the Latin word ‘cano’ mans I sing, or make music), Andrew Warhola not only designed the cover but also created a number of illustrations and typefaces. He is named as the magazine’s ‘art editor.’ (DK28)

Bennard B. Perlman: … Andy now resurrected one of his earlier drawings for a boy picking his nose and turned it into a painting in which one nostril of a pronounced proboscis, thrust in to the viewer’s face, is jabbed by the subject’s forefinger. He titled it The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose and, together with an oil titled I’m a Bird When I Fly, submitted it to the 39th Annual Exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh in January 1949.

The show regularly was dominated by Carnegie Tech faculty, alumni, and students, and Andy had been represented in it for the first time the previous year by the painting, I Like Dance, and a print, Dance in Black and White, the former featuring an unusual harlequin figure and a homemade frame of unfinished wood. In both 1948 and 1949 the artist listed his name as ‘Andrew Warhol’ when presenting his entries. (BP164)

(Note: An image of The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose (aka Why Pick on Me, aka Nosepicker #1) can be found here. gc)

Paul Warhola: ... the only thing things I saved of his art were some pictures he did during his time at Carnegie Tech. Most of them are painted on hard wood. Now they are in the permanent exhibition in the West Moorland Museum, about 25 miles from here. Andy painted those pictures in the years 1947 to 49. One we did together in the living room and it's very nice, and there's another one called The Dancer that Andy took to the Associated Artists uction in Pittsburg. He set an asking price of 90 dollars for it. Someone offered him 75 but he didn't accpt taht and so he brought the picure back home. There were two pictures of nose pickers. My children were young at the time and as its the way at that age, sometimes they used to pick their noses. We were trying to break them of the habit. It annoyed Andy too, and he was always saying, 'Why are they doing it, it can't go on, it's not nice!' And he went and painted them a pair of prictures so they could see how they looked. (RU68)

Dieter Koepplin: In two undated pictures from around 1948-49, we encounter the Nose-picker head-on. One of these shows a whole figure, the other is a half-length portrait, and the same is true of drawings… It was one of these two pictures (the half-length portrait, measuring 30 x 26 in.)… painted in brown and black, decidedly ‘dirty’ colors, and one of a series of similar pictures) which, in January 1949, Andy Warhol submitted to the Pittsburgh Associated Artists’ Annual exhibition. This was shortly before he graduated in ‘Pictorial Design’ at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (on June 16, 1949) and subsequently moved straight to New York to become a commercial artist. Although a number of jurors, including George Grosz, the famous artist, praised the high quality of his work, the picture was rejected on the grounds that its subject matter was offensive. Warhol changed the title to Why Pick on Me, and entered it, this time successfully, for a group exhibition which took place in June 1949 at the Arts and Craft Center in Pittsburgh, where it enjoyed a fine succès de scandale, largely because the stir it had caused had now become public knowledge. (DK20)

Jack Wilson: It was very controversial. He submitted the boy picking his nose to Associated Artists Annual. It was juried – George Grosz and Joe Jones. Joe Jones was a Midwestern painter – did very big simplistic type of landscapes with pastel colors. And they were the judges of this show… the Nose-Picker was done several times. It was a theme. I recall seeing one that was just the head and the shoulders.

But the big argument between the two judges was not whether Andy’s painting was merely awarded or not but if it should hang. You know, the jury usually hangs paintings, then juries them, but they argued and argued and argued all day about the merits of this painting. Joe Jones says it’s repulsive. Grosz says it’s a great work of art. And they were just deadlocked, and it resulted in the painting not hanging. However, it got in to the press in Pittsburgh. At the Arts and Crafts Center there was a smaller show later. The painting was exhibited [there], and they just flocked to the Arts and Crafts Center just to see this painting that Andy Warhol did. (PSC16)

Bennard B. Perlman: Andy’s last hurrah before leaving Carnegie Tech and Pittsburgh occurred when he submitted the rejected work, creatively retitled Why Pick on Me, to the Arts and Crafts Center for a group show by tow dozen Painting and Design students from the Carnegie Tech class of 1949. The show was scheduled from June 11 through July 3, so as to be on view at the time of graduation on June 16. A total of 111 entries, including paintings, prints, ceramics, and jewelry, were paraded before a jury consisting of Sam Rosenberg, Gertrude Temeles, and Benton Spruance, a Philladelphia artist who was in town for a show of his lithographs at the Carnegie Institute.

In addition to Why Pick on Me, Andy’s other submission, Harpist, depicting a bulbous-headed figure whose thin, blotted line arms embrace the instrument, was also accepted. Yet of 33 works exhibited, it was Why Pick on Me that drew the most attention from crowds of graduates, their families, and curiosity seekers who flacked to the Center, many specifically to view Andy’s previously outlawed painting. (BP164)

Fred Lawrence Guiles: Weeks before graduation, the plans for New York had become crystallized. As the favored student of the faculty, Philip Pearlstein had got to know Balcomb Greene nearly as well as Bob Lepper. Now Greene proposed that Pearlstein sublet the Manhattan apartment of an artist friend of his who was about to go to Europe. Philip told him that he would be sharing the place with Andy Warhola, and that seemed quite all right. It was extremely cheap, under forty dollars a month, and a walk-up, but Andy especially was ecstatic about the prospect. (FG46)

Philip Pearlstein: Andy's brothers were very protective of him… I was a little older and an Army vet, so I guess they figured he would be all right with me. We went to New York to survive. But nobody had the idea that you could survive as an artist. (GS)

Paul Warhola: Mother says ‘Andy I don’t think you should go up there, you’re too young to go up. He says ‘mother, the future is New York City.’ (CR)

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