an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years
by Gary Comenas
Matt Wrbican: [In 1954 Andy Warhol] self-published the illustrated book 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, with text by Charles Lisanby... (MWC)
Charles Lisanby (television production designer) : We met at a party a friend of mine gave in 1954. There was this guy sitting all alone, not talking with anyone. Before I left I decided to speak to him. We talked about art and I recognized his name. I had to leave early and Andy said he was leaving also. Down on the street it had started to rain, and we were standing under the awning of a taxidermy shop. In the window of was a stuffed peacock on a pedestal. I told him I grew up on a farm in Kentucky with a flock of pet peacocks. We shared a cab and Andy dropped me off. As the cab pulled away I realized I didn’t know his phone number… but after I came home from work next day, there was this stuffed peacock waiting in front of my apartment. That’s how we got to know each other. (MK)
[Note: The text which Warhol attributed to Charles Lisanby in 25 Cats nam Sam and one Blue Pussy consisted of the word "Sam" on all the pages of the book except the last one which had "One Blue Pussy."]
Charles Lisanby: We used to draw together every weekend. Andy was living on Lexington in the 30s at that time with his mother. And we would do things like buy flowers and go down to my apartment. My apartment, even then, was filled with a lot of things. A lot of the things that are here now, I had even then. Andy used to love drawing all of those things.
And the cat book of course. He did all of the cat book, I suppose, there. No, I guess, he was doing them every place. Of course, he was very influenced by Ben Shahn. And Andy always had an original approach to anything he did. It's very, very true. In fact, that's what interested me in him.
... Oh, the cat book. It was so funny. There is no text. The text is the title, and I wrote the title, which was, I don't know, an amusing thing. He said, 'What should I call it?' I just said that. So he wrote that down, which I think is funny... and he owned so many cats, and he loved to make these drawings. Even some of the cat things were drawn while looking at a book of photographs of cats that I have.
... Andy would get his books published - the reason for publishing these books was to try to attract attention to himself as an illustrator or to whatever he thought he was doing in those days, as an artist. And he would print those books in order to give out to people, to try to generate work. That was the real reason for doing it. And he would get all of his friends in to colour them... (PSC132/135)
Trevor Fairbrother: Acceptance and visibility in the form of awards from the Art Directors Club came quickly to Warhol during the fifties… In Europe, Graphis Annual (The Encyclopaedia of International Graphic Art) included his work in their 1954/55 volume, reproducing two dust jacket designs and an illustration he made for a pharmaceutical company’s booklet on alcoholism. (TR56)
[Note: The pharmaceutical company was E.R. Squibb. The folds of the subject's sleeve in the illustration form the word "liver."]
Trevor Fairbrother: Warhol did not deny his sexuality in his daily routine, nor did he repress it in his art...Of the three Warhols reproduced in Graphis Annual 54/55, only one, the dust jacket of the New Directions book Three More Novels of Ronald Firbank, hinted at this special interest. It is more readily apparent if one knows the works of Firbank (1886-1926), which have been described as ‘improper fairy-tales, intended for exceptionally knowing adults – satirical glimpses of a world where the sexes are confused, and wit is the only indispensable virtue.’ (TR56)
[Note: The other two Warhol illustrations included in Graphis Annual 1954/55 were the covers of Pistols for Two by Aaron Marc Stein and Three More Novels of Ronald Firbank.]
Robert Galster: I had admired Andy's book jacket design for Ronald Firbank's Three More Novels, and Gilbert [Ireland] called up the publisher and said, 'Who did that book jacket?' because he wanted to see if he could get a Valentine's Day drawing with these little cupids, and it turned that the artist was Andy Warhol. Andy lived, it turned out, nearby, and we both met him. Andy charged about 20 dollars for the drawing...
I turned up on the top floor of this brownstone, above a restaurant. As I recall, it was funny. It was like a bat cave: funny room just filled with things like boxes and things, and not a stick of furniture. And for a desk, he used a door: a door taken off a wall and on two saw horses. He was also working while we were there, and he was sitting on a typewriter case, which was funny. He was sitting on this typewriter case, which is so high off the ground, and working... And I said something about that I liked the little cupid drawing, and he started drawing me more cupids. Just drawing away, and he gave me three or four drawings then...
I was a freelance book illustrator. One day, I was up at Doubleday, and he [Warhol] was up at Doubleday [too]. There was a wonderful woman there named B.G. Schuller... He walked into Doubleday with some samples of his work and, I guess, showed them to B.G., and she was a sweet woman and impressed by his work and not put off by his physical appearance or in his strange, fey mannerisms. In those days, we dressed differently from how we do today. I would go to Doubleday with my little work job - what I was doing for them - and I would get - not 'dressed up' but be sort of conventional with my shirt, pants and something. And I remember seeing Andy there for the first time and thinking, 'Isn't it amazing! I wonder how he ever gets a job!?' I wondered how he ever got his first job in a commercial establishment.... She [Schuller] said that she couldn't use him since he couldn't adapt to various cover styles, but she did like his work, but he couldn't adapt. I had no personal style, so I could. (PS303-5)Jesse Kornbluth: In 1955, he [Warhol] produced Á la Recherche du Shoe Perdu [with text by Ralph Pomeroy].... (JK143)
Robert Cozzolino (Curator): In spring 1955 [Dudley] Huppler was awarded a residency fellowship for visual art at the Yaddo mansion in Saratoga Springs, NY… At Yaddo, Huppler met the poets Ralph Pomeroy and Ed Field and the artist Tobias Schneebaum. Through Huppler, Pomeroy met Warhol and later that year the two collaborated on the book Á la Recherche du Shoe Perdu. (RCD11)
L to r: Ralph Pomeroy the Poet (1955) by Dudley Huppler. (Inscribed "Ralph Pomeroy/DH/at Yaddo")/Photo of Ralph Pomeroy (by M. Quercia) on the back cover of his 1961 book of poetry, stills & movies, which also includes a short biography of the author.
From the back cover of poetry, stills & movies: Ralph Pomeroy was born in Illinois on Columbus Day, 1926. His name derives from the apple country of Normandy and appears - in its original spelling (de la Pommeraie) - in the discussion of place names carried on by M. Brichot in Remembrance of Things Past...
Rainer Crone: Warhol’s first series of shoe portraits was the portfolio published in 1955, Á La Recherche du Shoe Perdu. This series also contains the first calligraphy, written by his mother, sixty-four years old at the time. The verses, composed by Ralph Pomeroy, have been adapted mostly from popular sayings and songs and satirized with the typically Anglo-Saxon nonsense rhyme, with shoes as subjects. (RCA)