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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 eleven

3. New York City

Heiner Bastian (Curator of the 2002 Andy Warhol Retrospective): In June of that year [1949] Andy Warhol moved to New York having visited the city the previous autumn with his fellow students Philip Pearlstein and Arthur Elias. (HB14)

James Warhola: When Andy finished college and went to New York he left a mass of personal possessions, including many of his paintings from college, here in Pittsburgh. My father asked Andy what he should do with them. Andy told him, 'Do as you think best.' When my father saw his early paintings from college he said that they were very beautiful and very strange, and so he kept them. He kept about ten paintings. He got them right from the beginning. Unfortunately the material was very poor quality. The paint was cheap watercolour, and after a while this became obvious. But my father still has them today. They are beautiful treasures. These are paintings that Andy created just as self-expression, not like the other things tht he did later. I like his early period. He was a good draftsman and that's the reason I always admired him. Very natural, very instinctive and spontaneous. Of course he had his influences, such as Ben Shahn. Later on I realised that his art was far more conceptual than conventional, that he was a real master of the idea, as we can see in his silkscreens, soup cans and so on. (RU117)

Philip Pearlstein: We [Warhol and Pearlstein] moved to New York together - his brothers let him come here only if we lived together; they considered me a man of the world because I’d been through war. We came to New York in the spring of 1949 and he was an immediate success. We had a friend who worked as assistant to an art director and he had access to all the New York art directors’ numbers. We used those numbers. (IS)

[Note: By most accounts Warhol and Pearlstein moved to New York in the summer of 1949 – after graduating from Carnegie Tech – although they did make at least one earlier exploratory trip to New York (see previous chapter. gc]

Andy Warhol: [When we first moved to New York] we lived in St. Mark’s Place… I was there before the hippies.… We rented someone’s apartment for the summer, and it was a six or seven story walk-up… It was 1949 because we had that place just for the summer. And, then, I think, I lived with Philip for a few months, and, then I moved up to 103rd and Manhattan Avenue. (PS515)

Fred Lawrence Guiles:  Waiting for them in New York was George Klauber, their former classmate, who, in their eyes, had already succeeded in the world of commercial art… Klauber had first studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for a year and a half before he was drafted for army service in the Second World War. When he came back from the war he was a much more sophisticated artist. He had spent some months in Paris studying and using the models at the Sorbonne, the Lycée Louis le Grand and Le Grand Chaumière. Inexplicably failing to get into an illustration course at Pratt because of an obstinate dean, he transferred to Carnegie Tech’s art school, where he found Andy and Philip in the sophomore class.

The three men had become very close during Klauber’s year in Pittsburgh. After that year, when Klauber decided to return to New York and Pratt Institute for reasons that had as much to do with Pittsburgh’s provinciality as Klauber’s perseverance, he got into the illustration course at Pratt, and, in his words, ‘as soon as I got out of school, I found a job as assistant to the art director of Fortune magazine, Will Burtin.  I worked as a special assistant to him and also on his freelance work.’ When Burtin left the magazine to open his own studio, Klauber went with him. That is where he was when Andy and Philip arrived in town to stay. (FG48-49)

George Klauber; …Andy… drew as beautifully then as he did all the rest of his life, with a surety and sensitivity that I think was conspicuous to me at the time. I remember a self-portrait he did where I can just see those wonderfully long fingers that he had… Andy would never overwork anything. It was that statement and it was made, and it didn’t need to be changed. It was second nature for him to draw… (FG48)

Philip Pearlstein: At the end of the first week Andy had major illustration work from Seventeen magazine. I had no ambitions to be an illustrator - well, I tried and it didn’t work - I wanted to be an art director. I became an assistant to Ladislav Sutnar, a graphic designer. He was highly influential, and I met all sorts of people - Josef Albers used to drop by to visit. (IS)

Andy Warhol: When I came to New York, I went directly into commercial art and Philip wanted to, too. But he had a really hard time with it, so he kept up with his paintings. And then, I didn't know much about galleries, and Philip did take me to some galleries, and then he went into some more serious art. I guess if I had thought art was that simple, I probably would have gone into gallery art rather than commercial, but I like commercial. Commercial art at that time was so hard because photography had really taken over, and all of the illustrators were going out of business really fast. (BB122)

Joan Fenton (Art director of Seventeen magazine): He [Warhol] left his portfolio and when I saw it I thought, ‘Ah I’ve got just the right, just the right job for him’ and it was a story we were doing on allergies and, so, ‘cause his line was very scratchy and a little bit upsetting and when he came in I thought, "Oh, here is a very, you know, strange young man, he will fit in exactly, you know, he’ll understand what to do. And what I did was I gave him a double page spread of all the things that make you itch and scratch and sneeze and cough and he understood.” (CR)

John Coplans (Editor in Chief of Artforum 1972-1977): … Andy would take his drawings around to magazines and advertising agencies. He couldn’t afford a portfolio, so he took them around in a brown paper bag from the A & P.

One day he took his paper bag into the office of Tina, who at that time was art director of Glamour. She was intrigued both by the drawings and by Andy, pale and shy and a little forlorn in his old chino pants and dirty sneakers, looking not quite of this earth. She told him the drawings were good, but that what Glamour really needed at the moment was drawings of shoes. (JC8)

Tina S. Fredericks (Art director of Glamour magazine): Between our first shy “hello” in ’49 and the time we said good-bye in ’87, Andy… managed to become more celebrated, not only in America, but around the world, than any other contemporary artist… I was instrumental in launching him on his meteoric journey – in the right spot at the right time. Does that make me the Mom of Pop?...

In 1949, I was a very young art editor at Condé Nast’s Glamour magazine… The day Andy walked in, in the summer of ’49, I was five months pregnant with my first child – and properly editorial, in my navy-blue garbardine suit topped by the obligatory chapeau…

I was greeted by a pale, blotchy boy, diffident almost to the point of disappearance but somehow immediately and immensely appealing. He seemed all one color: pale chinos, pale wispy hair, pale eyes, a strange beige birthmark over the side of his face (almost like a Helen Frankenthaler wash.) The big black portfolio he carried was an emphatic accent that would later be replaced by perpetual black leather jackets.

He had gone to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, he volunteered, and had only recently come to New York. The big black portfolio didn’t have much in it: some nude figure studies, some flowers, and a charming abstraction of an orchestra playing. Black and white circles – the musicians’ heads – sketched in blotted lines and repeated all over the paper, with multicoloured accents slapped around to enliven the drawing even further. I was enchanted, and thought it would be perfect for the nursery I was planning.

‘How much would you want for this?’ I asked, and in his shy, breathy way he immediately whispered, ‘Oh… you can have it!’

His ink lines were electrifying. Fragmented, broken, and intriguing, they grabbed at you with their spontaneous intensity. There was something wallpaperish about the way the drawing covered the space. Much later, of course, we could see these as the precursors to the multiple Coke bottles, the cow heads, the infinite, repetitive silkscreens of Marilyn and Mao.

The signature in the corner read: ‘Warhola.’ I asked him about the name. ‘Czech,’ he said, and explained that henceforth he intended to drop the final ‘A’ – to make it simpler. (TF9-12)

[Note: Tina Fredericks later ran a real estate business in East Hampton. In 1971 she sold a Montauk property to Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey for about $225,000.00. Morrissey sold a large portion of the same property for just under $30 million in 2007. (IC) g.c.]

Michal Varchola: In Eastern Slovakia under Austria-Hungary up to the end of the First World War, official records including state and church birth, death and marriage registers were kept in Hungarian. Among the Ruthenians of Greek-Catholic faith, the church registers were kept in two languages. Because they were mainly kept by the Greek-Catholic priests, many of whom who Magyarised, the names o fthe newborn babies were often written down inaccurately, or in Hungarian transcrition. After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic this often led to the garbling of original Ruthenian names. Such garbling was how the surname 'Varhola' came into existence, even though in Miková it had always been written and pronounced 'Varchola.' In the old Midová register many surnames are written in a way that differs from their original pronunciation, even though all the old inhabitants of Miková itself pronouced them and still pronounce them correctly.

The name was changed again in America, when an official at the registry office in Pittsburgh wrote down the name of Andy's eldest brother Paul (1922) as Warchola instead of Varhola.

Three years later (1925), when another son, John, was born, there was another change: the letter C was left out making the name Warhola, which the whole family in America continues to use.

During his student years Andy dropped the last A from the name as well, thus creating the surname Warhol. (RU31)

[Note: Andy Warhol experimented with a variety of names during his early days, including "A. Warhol" on a 1942 portrait of his childhood friend Nick Kish and "Andy Warhol" on a self portrait of 1948. He signed a drawing of dancers on a Christmas card (c. 1948) for George Klauber simply as "Andre" and an advertising mailer for the Moss Rose Mfg. Co. as  "warhola" c. 1949. Orchestra (c. 1949), the painting he gave Fredericks was signed "Andre Warhola." A drawing, Young Man Reclining (c. 1954) is signed Andrew Morningstar. He regularly used "Andy Warhol" from about the early 1950s and was known by that name in the advertising industry. g.c.]

John Warhola: He told me that when he first started it was hard for him to get a job. With a name like Warhola everyone knew he was either a Slovak or an Italian. When he dropped the 'a' at the end, they didn't know if he was a German, or where he was from. So he just took the 'a' off. (RU47)

Paul Warhola: I asked Andy why he did it, because there were several stories about the change from Warhola to Warhol. He told me he had ben trying out several variations of the letters in his name and the 'a' fell out so he left it like that. Another story I heard - Andy told me - was that it was easier to pronounce. 'Andy Warhol' has fewer syllables. I think that was the reason. (RU72)

Tina S. Fredericks: Andy was so obviously talented I knew that I wanted to use him. ‘Could you draw something more practical, merchandisey?’ I ventured. ‘I can draw anything,’ came the soft reply. Okay, I thought, we’ll try him on shoes. Perhaps put them on a background of ladders, so they can be followed by more ladders with girls climbing – to illustrate the next pages of articles on how to ascent the ladders of career success in various fields.

The shoe editor gave us six shoes, which Andy took home. ‘How soon do you need them?’ Yesterday, of course – my standard answer. Indeed, he came back the following day. The brown paper bag, which would be the vehicle for most of his offerings, in hand. It contained a roll of beautiful drawings: shoes with the swells and cracks and wrinkles of true personality, full of character. Unfortunately they had none of what in those days was called ‘sell.’ I explained that our shoes had to look irresistibly sleek, chic – and new – so that Glamour readers would rush to buy them. ‘Oh,’ said Andy, and returned the next morning with flawless renderings.

He was fast, and that, in combination with intelligent, adaptable, and really good, made him an art director’s dream come true. Andy was surely worth the gamble – I decided to let him do the following six pages as well. (TF12)

Matt Wrbican/Geralyn Huxley: Among other clients for whom he created early work were American Girl, Interiors and Charm magazines, Doubleday Publishers, Columbia Records, the Museum of Modern Art and department stores.” (MWT31)

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