an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years
by Gary Comenas
5. From Angor Wat to Wild Raspberries
Margery King: [In 1956] a Warhol drawing of a shoe [was] included in the exhibition 'Recent Drawings U.S.A.,' at The Museum of Modern Art New York (25 April - August 5). (MA172)
Front cover of the exhibition catalogue of "Recent Drawings U.S.A" which included Warhol's first work displayed in a museum (Collection: G. Comenas)
Foreword in the "Recent Drawings USA" catalogue by the Director of the Exhibition, William S. Lieberman
Tony Scherman/David Dalton: Philip Pearlstein joined the Tanager Gallery in 1954; at some point thereafter, probably 1956, Warhol made his second try [at submitting works to the Tanager] ‘The Tanager was a gallery that got a lot of attention,’ Pearlstein said, ‘so Andy brought me a portfolio of these ‘boy drawings’ with their tongues in each other’s mouths. The macho painters at the Tanager took one look at these and dismissed them. Andy was very hurt. I remember the talk I had with him after that. I said that sometimes the subject matter gets in the way. (SC33)
Nathan Gluck: Andy had this great passion for drawing people’s cocks and he had pads and pads and pads of drawings of people’s lower regions. They’re drawings of the penis, the balls and everything, and there’d be a little heart on them or tied with a little ribbon. And they’re – if he still has them – they’re in pads just sitting around. I used to wonder what his mother would do if she saw them. But, I guess, she never saw them or didn’t recognize them. But every time he got to know somebody, even as a friend sometimes, he’d say, ‘Let me draw your cock’… They’d drop their pants, and Andy would make a drawing. That was it. And then he’d say, ‘thank you.’ (PSC62-63)
Trevor Fairbrother: Warhol's most outspokenly gay public project of the fifties was his solo exhibition at the Bodley Gallery, New York, in February 1956, provocatively titled 'Drawings for a Boy-Book.' Affiliated with a bookshop, the gallery attracted a rather circumscribed liberal arts audience. Its owners liked Warhol and his work enough to give him several more solo exhibitions. The Bodley was just a couple of blocks from Serendipity, a fashionable cafe and boutique that was friendly to its many gay customers, and where Warhol was encouraged to display and sell his shoe drawings. The works in the 'Boy-Book' show focused on sleek, handsome young men striking narcissistic or sexually expectant poses, as exemplified by the exhibition's announcement. Occasionally little hearts would be included in the drawings, either suggesting tattoos, or drawing the eye to the crotch or the lips. (TR60)
Fritzie Wood: The Boy Book drawings had hearts on the pubic hair and nipples of the young men, but they had a cheeriness that made you bubble with simple laughter. You walked away thinking that they were not original, and some of my friends considered him second or third rate. (PSC44)
Robert Fleisher: He [Warhol] always wanted to sketch me. At the same time, just about that time, I became a model. I was photographed a lot, and I was in retailing but earned part of my income by modelling. And Andy used to sketch and sketch and sketch… He said he was going to do what he called his Boy Book, and he wanted all of us to pose nude, and we did. There were loads of us… Andy loved to sketch models and very intimate sexual acts. Really! And Andy sketched us screwing a couple of times. Andy would get very, very excited. He wouldn’t quite join in, but he loved watching. He would very often like to draw me nude and see me with an erection, but he never actually touched me. And I think that I never really put myself in a position of letting him or leading him on, or that I was interested physically, because I wasn’t. And at one time he said that he got so hot when he saw men with erections that he couldn’t have an orgasm himself. But he started to strip that day. ‘And wasn’t it all right if he sketched in his Jockey shorts?’ And he did. And I was really upset. And it kind of confirmed what I had thought about Andy’s personal habits in those days. (PS114-15)
Nathan Gluck: Dudly Hopler [sic]... was forever drawing pictures of sensual men with very large lips, holding roses in the teeth. Ah, ha! This is a recollection: The Boy Book – the one with the boy with flower in his mouth was subconsciously suggested by Dudley’s things because we once had a drawing like that – my roommate had. (PSC63)
Robert Galster: He [Andy] did a whole book of Charles Lisanby. It's called the The Boy Book... (PS304)
[Note: Although Warhol never produced a book called The Boy Book, he did have an exhibition of "studies" for the book - "Studies For a Boy Book by andy Warhol" - which opened on Valentine's Day at the Bodley Gallery in 1956.]
Charles Lisanby: [Referring to a drawing on the invitation for the Studies for a Boy Boy Book exh.] That's me... It's really me... You see, its because the way he signed it, it's printed that way [head side up], but, actually, it's me lying down that way [sideways, head left] I was lying down, taking-a-nap picture, and that's why the eyes are closed. And I looked like that then. A lot of those pictures in The Boy Book really are me. (PS371)
Geraldine Stutz: [Warhol's drawings] had style and grace... Each one had a life of its own. Andy would take an idea and do something. Shoe advertising, most advertising, was very literal up to that particular time. I remember, for instance, we did a colour called Italian pear. Andy did the most wonderful pear tree with pears that were slightly shoe-shaped hanging from the branches.... everyone understood that it was something that had not been done before - and that the quality of Andy's work was beyond illustration. (PSC106)
Rainer Crone: H.B. [Happy Birthday] Mister Lisanby shows the portrait in profile of a friend of the time [Charles Lisanby], executed in the blotted line technique. Added to this is a drawing of a pear, emphasized through the application of watercolours, amidst interwoven branches and leaves, coloured in Warhol’s usual hasty manner. Due to its heart-shaped form, the pear is often considered to symbolize affection, especially in connection with portraiture. In Christian iconography the pear may be shown together with the living Christ, a reference to his love of mankind. (RCA37)
Zdenek Felix (curator): An opportunity to know [Charles] Lisanby more closely was offered to Andy in 1956. Since Lisanby was planning a trip to the Far East for the summer, where he wanted to look at Asian art and architecture, Lisanby invited his friend to go along with him... (ZF)
Charles Lisanby: Oh yes; every summer since 1951 [I travelled] all over Europe, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey... We [Andy and Charles] were the closest friends and whenever I went away for two months he was really unhappy. So this particular year, 1956, he said, 'why don't I go too,' and I said 'okay'... I wanted to go to Japan. I had collected Japanese prints since I was sixteen. But what impressed me most was Angor Wat... It blew my mind... (MK)
Zdenek Felix (curator): We are rather well-informed about the course of this journey. For one thing, Andy regularly sent postcards to his mother in New York. For another, in his Warhol monograph from 1989, Kyanston McShine notes down most of the dates of the round trip so that it is possible to follow the itinerary... (ZF)
[Note: The publication to which Felix refers is the exhibition catalogue of the Andy Warhol retrospective which took place 6 February - 2 May 1989 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and 7 September to 5 November 1989 at the Hayward Gallery in London. Although Kynaston McShine edited the catalogue it was actually Marjorie Frankel Nathansan who provided the dates of the trip in the catalogue's chronology. g.c.]
Marjorie Frankel Nathanson: [Their] itinerary [was]: June 16, depart from New York; June 16-17, San Francisco; June 17-19, Honolulu; June 21-July 3, Tokyo; July 3-5 Hong Kong; July 5-6, Manila; July 6-7, Djakarta; July 7-11, Bali; July 11-12, Singapore; July 12-14, Bangkok; July 14-17, Siem Reap, Cambodia; July 17-21, Bangkok; July 21-25, Colombo, Ceylon; July 25-26, Calcutta; July 26-29, Kathmandu, Nepal; July 29-30, Benares, India; July 30-August 2, New Delhi; August 2-3, Agra, India; August 3-4, Aurangabad, India; August 5-9, Cairo and Luxor; August 9-11, Rome; August 11, change flights in Amsterdam; August 12, arrive in New York. (MN405)
Charles Lisanby: I remember on the 4th of July we were on a beach in Hong Kong… it was totally overrun with American sailors on holiday… I wanted to go to the beach to see local people. Also, I have photos of Andy on the beach in Honolulu and Bali. But he never got into a bathing suit - he sunburned so badly… I don’t know what colour hair he had because even then he wore a wig. (MK)
Carl Willers: ...he [Warhol] always wore a hat - a cap. And he always wore it because he was very self-conscious about going bald, and he'd even wear it at dinner parties. I'd tell him to get a hairpiece, and he finally did... oh, around '55, and it made him look younger. (PS144)
Victor Bockris: Charles and Andy had a confrontation on the second night of the trip in a hotel room in Honolulu. Andy had suggested they have separate rooms in San Francisco but when they got to Honolulu Charles said, 'This is ridiculous,' and got them a double with twin beds overlooking the beach. It was around three o'clock in the afternoon. Charles wanted to go out and cruise the beach immediately but Andy, appearing jet-lagged, hung back. As soon as Charles hit the beach he ran into a particularly beautiful young guy with a great story about how he had to pick up one soldier every day in order to support his family, and after talking to him for a while Charles suggested they go up to the room to take some pictures. As Charles walked down the corridor of the hotel to their room with the kid, he hoped that Andy had gone out but figured he could handle the situation if he hadn't. Finding that he had forgotten his key, Lisanby knocked on the door. There was a long pause and then, furtively, with the chain on, Andy peeked out. 'Andy, open the door,' Charles said, 'we...'
Andy took the chain off the door and stepped back half a foot, still blocking the entrance, and said, 'Who's tha- what are you doing?' Suddenly he went berserk, screaming, 'How dare you bring someone back here?' and lifting both his hands up over his head to bring them crashing down on Charles.
'Andy, stop it! Calm down!' Charles cried, and grabbed hold of his wrists. 'Stop it!'
Andy screamed, 'How dare you? Get out of here and don't come back!,' stepped back and slammed the door.
Unnerved by the incident, but apparently more intrigued by the kid's story than by Andy's uncharacteristic tantrum, Lisanby took the kid to a hotel and bought him exotic drinks for the balance of the afternoon, returning to their hotel around 7 pm. (VB12)
Charles Lisanby: I still didn't have the key and he wouldn't open the door. I shouted, 'Andy I know you're in there and you might as well open up because I can go and get another key!' and finally he opened the door. He walked back across the room and slouched on the bed droop-shouldered and said, 'I want to go home. There's no use in going on.'
He wasn't behaving angrily any more. He was very aloof, trying to ignore that anything at all had happened and ignore me and shake the whole thing off. I was feeling very guilty. I wanted very much to stay his friend and I didn't want him to be angry with me and I didn't want him to hate me. I didn't want to lose Andy. I said, 'Yes we are going on. You've come this far and I won't let you go back.' I was very concerned because here was somebody who was obviously in torment and I realized this was a confrontation. He wanted to be persuaded to go on, and he wanted me to give in and decide that now was the time that something was going to happen, and I had to get out of that one.
I remember the windows and the ocean outside. It was still not sunset but it was getting close to it. I remember sitting beside him. I put my arms around him and I was trying to calm him down, and he really did totally break down crying and then it got worse and he couldn't stop. He really couldn't stop sobbing hysterically and crying on the bed. It was that he didn't want to be alone. Andy always wanted to be in his own centre but he wanted somebody to share it with. I knew that he loved me, but he said, in a soft, trembling voice, 'I love you.' I said, 'Andy, I know, and I love you too.' And he said, 'It's not the same thing.' And I said, 'I know it's not the same thing, you just have to understand that, but I do love you.' (VB12-13)
Victor Bockris: They stayed in that night. Charles ordered dinner. Andy did not want anything. The next morning Andy acted as if nothing had happened. In the afternoon he took some photographs of Charles in a swimsuit on the beach in front of the hotel. Before they left that evening for Tokyo Charles made it clear that there were to be no more such confrontations on the trip. It had been a very unusual scene, he reflected. He had never seen Andy express that kind of rage before - he had wanted to fight - and he would never see it again.
As far as Charles could tell, Andy had got over the incident completely once they put Hawaii behind them, and they had a wonderful time in the Far East travelling through Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and ending up in Bali... Andy, of course, drew all the time. Charles took photographs and 8-mm film. (VB13)
Nathan Gluck: He [Warhol] bought a Japanese pornographic book... It was something he had bought in Japan, and it had these little flaps you lifted, and there was the pornography. But, you know, he had all kinds of things. (PS334)
Calvin Tomkins: From Japan they went to Hong Kong, Formosa, Djakarta and Bali, and then to Cambodia where they met the Davises.
[Note: According to Tomkins, the Davises accompanied Warhol around the ruins of Angor Wat. They were "Floyd Davis, the well-known Saturday Evening Post illustrator, and Gladys Rockmore Davis, the well-known Floyd's even better-known wife..." (CT10) g.c.]
Calvin Tomkins: Andy did a lot sketching... he particularly liked the gold and black lacquer work they saw in Bangkok. After Angkor Wat they went on to India. Lisanby wanted to go up to Nepal, which had recently been opened to tourists, but just before they were to go there he came down with a fever. An Indian doctor pumped him full of antibiotics, but the fever hung on and so instead of going to Nepal they booked tickets on a plane to Rome.
It was August by this time. As their plane came down for a landing at Cairo airport, they looked out the window and saw a great many tanks and soldiers and machine guns ringing the perimeter, and no one was permitted to disembark. Both Andy and Lisanby were quite surprised to learn, later, that there had been some sort of international crisis over the Suez and they had landed right in the middle of it.
At Rome they stayed in the Grand Hotel until Lisanby had fully recovered. Lisanby kept urging Andy to go out and see the sights, but Andy didn't feel like going out alone; he seemed quite content to stay in the hotel. When they got to Florence, though, Lisanby, who had been there several times, insisted on Andy's going into every church and museum, and Andy seemed to enjoy that...
From Florence they went to Amsterdam for a week and there there they flew directly home, stopping neither in Paris nor London. (CT10)
Patrick S. Smith: While Andy Warhol and Charles Lisanby were traveling around the world they bought in Amsterdam a series of illustrated children’s books whose chromolithographic illustrations featured a series of season books of flower personifications. According to Lisanby, these books inspired them to collaborate on In the Bottom of My Garden when they returned to New York. The book’s title refers to the Rose Fyleman and Liza Lehmann song There are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden, made famous by Beatrice Lillie. (PS55)
Charles Lisanby: These pictures here – In the Bottom of My Garden. These were done after our famous tour around the world, and in Amsterdam – as a matter of fact, we arrived in Amsterdam quite by accident; I think we went to Amsterdam because we didn’t go to Venice... while we were [in Amsterdam], we found a series of little books… of fairies wearing flowers as costumes, and so on. And he really based all of these drawings... on those. I suppose not all of them, but the whole idea was more or less inspired by these things… Flower Fairies of the Autumn by Cicely Mary Barker, London and Glasgow… They’re children’s books and you can see where he took the things. (PS367-8)
Nathan Gluck: This is Andy’s In the Bottom of my garden, sometimes called The Fairy Book. Andy, at some point, began to buy some books. There was a dealer, I think on 34th Street or so – Cane. And Andy bought some books. And one of them was a French book, Les Fleurs animées by Grandville – with flowers who are little people and things. (PSC64)
Rainer Crone: ... the title [In the Bottom of my garden]... recalls Rubens’ Garden of Love. The drawings for the 1657 publication Les Jeux et plaisirs de l’enfance were provided by Jacques Stella, premier peintre du Roi; with its description of various children’s games, accompanied by verses, this is regarded as one of the most important sources of information on the history of games. Warhol has taken a number of scenes from this book, and in some cases transferred them directly, using the blotted line method, his only alteration consisting of the addition of angel wings to the putti drawn by Stella, which were always male and without wings… (RCA58)
Patrick Smith: Another pictorial source for Warhol’s In the Bottom of my garden is a seventeenth-century illustrated book of children’s games by Jacques Stella. Rainer Crone has shown that Warhol used two of the illustrations from Stella’s book. One of Warhol’s garden drawings omits the landscape but adds wings to two background figures of Stella’s illustration Le Batonet et la charrue. In the latter, Stella depicts two children playing a wheelbarrow game. Warhol has changed the children’s stance obliquely so that they seem to show one cupid held in flight by the prone one: Warhol suggests, moreover, an ‘innocent’ homoerotic sexual encounter. (PS55)
Rainer Crone: Grandville’s Métamorphoses du jour was published in Paris in 1829, and his Les Fleurs animées, one of his last illustrations, appeared in 1846. It was from its English translation, The Flowers Personified (New York, 1847-49), that Warhol obtained some of his picture captions... The most prominent source of images for In the Bottom of my garden, however, can be found in Jean-Ignace Grandville’s Les Fleurs animées (The Personified Flowers), completed in 1846. In contrast to his use of Stella’s Les Jeux et plaisirs de l’enfance, Warhol did not borrow the entire pictorial compostion, but restricted himself to certain parts, such as the cricket playing the violin and the clothing of the tulip figure. (RCA19/RCA58)