an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years
by Gary Comenas
Ted Carey: ... I can remember one Saturday afternoon going into Castelli, and I was in looking at a show, and Ivan [Karp] said, 'Oh, I've got something to show you.' So, we went into the closet, and he pulled out this big Pop Art painting, and I can't remember what it was, but it was a cartoon-type painting. And I said, 'It looks like Andy Warhol.' And he said, 'No, it's Roy Lichtenstein.' And I said, 'Well it looks very much like some paintings that Andy is doing.' 'Yes, we've heard that Andy is doing some paintings like this,' he said, 'Leo [Castelli] would like to see them. So, tell Andy to give us a call.' So I went home and called Andy - no, I think, I went right over to Andy's house. He was now living up on Second Avenue in the 90s. [Actually 89th Street and Lexington Avenue - 1342 Lexington Avenue. gc] And so, I said, 'Prepare yourself for a shock.' And he said, 'What?' I said, 'Castelli has a closet full of comic paintings.' And he said, 'You're kidding?!' And he said, 'Who did them?' And I said, 'Somebody by the name of Lichtenstein.' Well, Andy turned white.
He said, 'Roy Lichtenstein.' He said, 'Roy Lichtenstein used to...' As, I remember, he used to be a sign painter for Bonwit Teller... Andy felt that Lichtenstein had seen the paintings in the window and [they] gave him the idea to do his paintings. Now, whether this is true or not, I don't know. But at this time, this is what Andy had felt. So I said, 'Well, Ivan said that Leo would like to see your paintings.' So, Andy arranged for Leo to look at his paintings, and, I remember, seeing Leo shortly after he had seen the paintings, and, I remember his saying he really felt of all the artists at that time - which at that time was Andy, Lichtenstein and Rosenquist - that Lichtenstein was the strongest. And that was the one that he was going to show. (PS254-55)
Roy Lichtenstein (artist): I saw Andy's work at Leo Castelli's about the same time I brought mine in, about the spring of 1961... Of course, I was amazed to see Andy's work because he was doing cartoons of Nancy and Dick Tracy and they were similar to mine. (BBA39 n.21)
[Note: It's clear from Ted Carey's account that Castelli did not have any Warhols in spring 1961 when Lichtenstein apparently brought his work into Castelli's gallery. g.c.]
Ivan Karp (Manager Leo Castelli Gallery): I was working at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1961, and I just had come to meet Roy Lichtenstein. Three people, I think it was, came in one afternoon, which included a very shy, strange-looking gray-haired man [Warhol], and they wanted to see drawings by Jasper Johns, who had already achieved a certain momentum in his career.
And this person [Warhol] expressed tremendous enthusiasm and spoke of it with such conviction and with such high spirits that I thought that I would show him a few of the other things in the gallery. I took out this Roy Lichtenstein painting that was there maybe just the week before And he reacted in a very stunned and almost a distressed way, saying that he himself was involved with imagery of the same type and was shocked to think that somebody else had come upon such an idea of using a cartoon-subject for a fine arts arrangement. (PS211)
Andy Warhol: Actually, I think it was Ted Carey who saw the [Lichtenstein] things first and, then, he told me. (PS521)
Ivan Karp: And so, he said to me, would I not visit his studio and see what he did since I had already shown some interest in this artist, who is in the rack of the gallery? It was not my practice to visit an artist in his studio without seeing some evidence of the art first, since we had already at that time many, many applicants at the gallery, and it was my role and personal obligation to look at everybody's work that came in. We would usually sort out the work there from the good slides, and I would visit several studios during the course of the week. But this artist simply asked me to come to his studio. Well, I was so fascinated at the idea that he might be doing the same thing as this strange man, Roy Lichtenstein, that I went to his studio on 89th Street and Lexington Avenue.
And there was Warhol in the setting. It was very dark; the whole house was dark. But apparently, it was furnished with great taste - all kinds of Victorian trappings, fine couches and all kinds of ornamental devices, which were very attractive. And it was the living room that I was ushered into. A very simple setting. It was not something that I knew or understood. It was a little bit exotic. And in the corner of this room, as I was led to it by this extremely shy man who was very odd-looking, with a very peculiar complexion and strange, grey hair, dwelled a body of paintings, maybe about 25 or 30 paintings. And there was a record playing on the record player at an incredible volume! I remember the song that was being played. It was by Dickie Lee, called 'I Saw Linda Yesterday.' And during the entire time that I was there, he did not take off the record, and it played over and over again. Well, I was much caught up in the great, fresh thrust of the rock 'n roll music of that time, which was at its ripest: 1961. And I didn't object to the musical style. The fact that he played it over and over again, I asked him why he did not change the record since there were other nice things to listen to, and I recommended other groups that might be interesting. He said that he really didn't understand these records until he heard them at least a hundred times. Well, that's what he said. And it might have been a little bit pretentious of him, but having seen a lot of his pictures there and the repetition, one begins to appreciate the mentality of work there.
He showed me a body of work, and they were largely of cartoon subject matter. And they were, as I rapidly discerned with my acute perception, of two distinct types. One was a group of cartoon characters which were expressionistically, that is, were sketchily, done. And the outlines of the figures were ideologically connected to the prevailing tradition of Abstract Expressionism - a lot of dripping and of loose painting and a lot of what you would call 'action gesture' - although, there were another group of paintings that were very cartoon-like, very static and very stylized. And having learned already from the one Lichtenstein picture that I had at the gallery for about a week or so, that it might well be a legitimate thing to do an inventive pastiche of the cartoon image...I immediately decided that to do it blandly and in a stylized way was more legitimate than to try the tradition that had preceded it.
So, I said to him, 'Why do you make these splashes on the picture when you can do them the other way in a very stylized and in a very flat way, without all those sketchy markings?' He said, 'Well, I prefer to do them that way, but it seemed that there would be no audience interest in any work that was not expressive in this style. In other words, you can't do a painting without a drip.'
I said 'Maybe it is possible to do it since this Roy Lichtenstein is doing it without drips. Maybe you can make a painting in modern times without a drip,' I said. He said, 'I would prefer to do that.' And he said, 'It would give me a certain amount of encouragement to hear somebody say that.'
So, I said, 'How many people have been here?' And he said, 'Nobody, I mean, like, you're the first one, basically, to see these pictures, except for my few friends.' And so I then inquired, like, about his background and his industry - you know, his biography. And, of course, I was not aware of his existence in the commercial art world, and I discovered thereafter very shortly that he was known in certain circles as an important illustrator of women's shoes... And then I realized, in having visited a place called Serendipity, which at that time was a very posh, somewhat decadent coffee shop up there in the 60s, 61st Street, that that place had been decorated with shoes by this man called 'Warhol.' Right? and that's what he would be famous for and that he knew a lot of people in the advertising world. But otherwise, I had never heard of him or knew of him. (PSC211-12)
Emile de Antonio: Andy used to show me his paintings and ask me what do you think of this, what do you think of that?... I think I gave him his first critique of the 'Coke Bottle.' I lived near to him and one day he asked me to come to his house. I went to his house all the time and he asked me what I think of two paintings of Coke bottles. One was a pure painting of a Coke bottle and the other one was a painting of Coke bottle with many harsh slash marks that looked like an abstract expressionist drawing and he asked me what do you think of it? I said, 'one is interesting and one is terrible. The simple Coke bottle, like pop art, is interesting and the one with the marks is boring, because it's a combination of de Kooning and many other people.' (LP213)
[Note: Warhol's first Coca Cola paintings were done in 1961. g.c.]
Ivan Karp: I went back to his [Warhol's] studio several times, and took with me, in most cases, people I knew to be emancipated [in their] collecting instinct... There must have been eight or ten collectors, and this represented the entire knife-edge, you know, of the forward-looking collectors in America. So they bought Warhol's work at very low, outrageous prices like $175 for a picture - two hundred fifty dollars - three hundred fifty dollars.
And, at that point, since Warhol said that he had been having a very hard time with his other work, to find a gallery for it, you know, he said that I could be his agent if I could help him find a gallery... and I brought Castelli down to see it, and Castelli, of course, was also fascinated by the character and by the setting but was a little distressed to think that if we were interested in Lichtenstein, could we really be legitimately interested in Warhol? Because there might be in the fragile beginnings of an artist's career a jeopardy to one or to the other, and if we were to commit ourselves to Lichtenstein, as we decided to do at that point, much to the chagrin and to the distress of the other artists in the gallery, that it would be a threat to the career of a new artist to have another one working just like him, that obviously. So, he simply could not show Warhol. (PSC212-13)
Leo Castelli: Andy used to have an apartment on Lexington Avenue in the nineties and that was also when I first met him in his studio. There were all kinds of objects there. He was a great collector right from the beginning. I can still remember that I was impressed by a rocking horse that was there, or it was perhaps one of those carousel horses. There was a great confusion of other things about, of his early paintings, and then his mother came down to meet me and I think that's the only time that I met her. I know that he loved her very dearly and that all through his whole career, as long as she was alive, he faithfully visited her and went to church with her on Sundays. He was very, very pious, and there is a wonderful portrait that he did of her and I see it often because Lichtenstein owns one of them and it is in his apartment...
Really I ought to have exhibited him earlier, but when I first saw his work I didn't realise what it meant. He showed me a few things but I had just seen Lichtenstein's painting and these seemed very similar to me. It was only later, when I saw his first [New York] exhibition with all the multiplied Marilyns and Elvises and Brillo Boxes and all the rest that I was completely enchanted. I realised what a mistake I had made not to take him. (RU234)
Ivan Karp: Well, I took slides and photographs of Warhol's work to any one of eight or ten so-called 'advanced' galleries, and they were not responsive to his work at all. So, for the first year and a half, I brought or sent clients to Warhol's studio, and I worked as his private agent and dealer, for which he would give me 10 percent or 20 percent commission if I was responsible for a particular sale. He was very ethical about that and insisted that I received a fair share of any sales that I was instrumental in making for him.
And we also became friends at that point, and we went out to dinner on a regular basis He was an immensely generous man. He always insisted on paying for fancy dinners. I never understood where he got his money from because he wasn't selling paintings. But apparently, he was making a good living in the advertising industry. (PSC212-13)
Henry Geldzahler (Curator Metropolitan Museum of Art): One of the greatest experiences I had in those early years of the 1960s was meeting Andy Warhol for the first time. Ivan Karp took me to his studio, and we became fast friends immediately. I remember very well that first day seeing this painting of Dick Tracy in Andy's studio. I said to him that I had seen the work in New Jersey of another artist, Roy Lichtenstein, who was also working from comic strips.
Andy had three or four other paintings besides Dick Tracy (1960). There was a Nancy and Sluggo, and there was a Popeye, and again, they were closer to Abstract Expressionism. The paint was allowed to drip, the message was unclear. There's a kind of accidental aura about them. At the same time in his studio I saw paintings of Coke bottles. I saw a before-and-after nose operation. And I recognized with a kind of thrill that I was in the presence of, let's say, a genius or someone who epitomized the age in a very special way. That's been my experience with Andy over the years. (EAP116)
[Nancy and Dick Tracy were two of the paintings mentioned by Lichtenstein earlier. As Lichtenstein didn't mention visiting Warhol's studio, it's still unknown where he woud have seen the paintings.]
Walter Hopps (owner of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles): By 1959 I had bought out my partner, Edward Kienholz, and taken over Ferus Gallery. I shopped around for another partner because I was supposed to still be going to UCLA. When Irving Blum came into Ferus Gallery, I gave him a a third of stock to act as its director...
In 1960 in New York, I met a man named David Herbert who had worked for Betty Parsons, then Sidney Janis; later he worked briefly for Poindexter Gallery. Herbert knew Andy Warhol, whom we had never heard of in California. Herbert said, 'You've got to meet this artist, Andy Warhol,' and this finally happened in the fall of 1961. Herbert's friends hung out in this trendy Manhattan store called Serendipity. Herbert arranged the meeting there and finally Warhol showed up.
Irving Blum and I went to Warhol's studio on Lexington Avenue in the Upper East Side. It was this big place with pine stairs leading to the second floor. The building had been some sort of lodge or meeting hall. When we met with Warhol, he struck me as strange. We followed him up these stairs and passed this amazing assortment of Americana and memorabilia that he had collected, and then we entered this large, high-ceilinged room that was mostly bare except for a vast sea of magazines, almost ankle deep.
I was just blown away by the art on view - I really had never seen anything like it. There was his big painting where Superman is going 'Puff!' as he blows out a fire (1960). There was a Dick Tracy painting with his sidekick Sam Ketchum (1960). There was work from the same era as The Menil Collection's Icebox (1960), paintings that are based on printed advertising. I hadn't seen anything specifically called 'Pop Art' before visiting Warhol's studio. That type of work would not even acquire a name in America until 1962. The name 'Pop' really comes out of England, from the writings of Lawrence Alloway. (WH43-44)
Irving Blum (Director of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles): Andy seemed a bit shy, very shy, very charming, very gracious, and he was delighted in showing me six or seven paintings which were all unfinished cartoon-like pictures. I was absolutely mystified by them, coming from an orientation of first and second generation Abstract Expressionism and being very involved with that style. These seemed to me.... oh... very strange... ah... too strange, somehow, and simple-minded. (PSC193)
Walter Hopps: Warhol gave us copies of his little book of cat drawings. Then he brought out of the closet a large painting that wasn't stretched yet and rolled it out. It was done in a whole new, more highly refined style - another Superman flying through the air, this time with Lois Lane in his arms. The style was far more precise, with the flat look of the original comic strip. That Superman and Lois Lane painting has since disappeared.
Some of the paintings, like those of a large black-and-white telephone, a smaller Underwood typewriter, and other advertising take-offs, were rendered precisely. The lost Superman painting was just as smooth as it could be, though it wasn't silkscreened: it was hand-painted. Others, like the Dick Tracy painting, were looser and more painterly. Even in those with obvious brushwork, the subject matter was just startling... (WH43-44)
Walter Hopps (Curator and co-owner of the Ferus Gallery): The trip to Warhol's studio in 1961 really shocked Blum and me. A little later that year, before Warhol's Ferus show took place, I visited Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, which Ivan Karp managed. I was there on a Saturday and in a back room - the old Castelli on 77th was laid out with apartments in the back - where I met this thin, sort of quiet guy: he was Roy Lichtenstein. Some of Lichtenstein's small paintings were set up and Karp was very excited about them... Later [in January 1962] at Green Gallery in New York I saw Jim Rosenquist's early Pop images. From the similarity of approach and subject matter in the work of these three artists, it became clear to me that a new direction in art was developing - post Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, both artists who had opened the door for much of Pop. (WH43-44)
Arthur C. Danto: There is no clear explanation of why a number of artists in and around New York City in the early 1960s, most of whom were known to one another distantly, if at all, should, each in his own way, begin to make art out of vernacular imagery - cartoon images from syndicated comic strips, or advertising logos from widely used consumer products, or publicity photographs of celebrities like movie stars, or pictures of things bound to be familiar to everyone in America, like hamburgers and Coca-Cola... A constellation of artists, all producing paintings of a kind as new as their content was familiar, was less a movement than the surface manifestation of a cultural convulsion that would sooner or later transform the whole of life. (AR24-25)
James Rosenquist: When I began using advertising imagery in my paintings it was never a question of beating advertisers at their own game. It was simply the idea of doing something that had the same force as advertising, using their techniques and bizarre imagery. I never used a brand name. The closest I ever came to displaying a product was when I painted a big dish of Campbell's tomato soup with parts of male and female images floating in it. This was long before Andy Warhol's soup can. It was called In the Red, meaning broke - the average bourgeois family that is always broke. (JR88-89)
Arthur C. Danto: Once it emerges that several artists were engaged in similar projects, we explain it by saying that there was something in the air, and we no longer simply look for biographical explanations... But in fact it would have seemed to Warhol that painting that kind of subject was a step toward becoming one of Castelli's artists, and showing in his gallery, which specialized in a certain kind of cutting edge art. Castelli had taken on Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns - the artists Warhol admired most. He had just taken on Lichtenstein, whose art was close to what Warhol himself was producing, though Warhol had evidently been unaware of him. (AR25)
Ted Carey: ...at that time Leo [Castelli] was not interested in taking Andy on; so Andy didn't get in there. Lichtenstein was being shown by Castelli, which was, like, the Pop gallery - Lichtenstein was going to get the credit. So, all of these paintings that Andy had done, even if they had been done and had been recognized as being done before Lichtenstein were, really, going to be anti-climatic. And, I remember, that right about this time that Oldenburg was having an exhibition downtown in The Store - it was a fabulous store. (PS255)
Barbara Haskell (art historian and curator): The Store took the form of brightly painted plaster reliefs of everyday commodities - shoes, foodstuffs, fragments of advertising signs. Suspended in the stairwell and front window of the gallery like a random display in a messy shop window, The Store manifested Oldenburg's increased involvement with commercial and manufactured objects... these plaster reliefs were blatantly commercial in subject... it was about buying and selling. (BM69-71)
Ted Carey: He [Claes Oldenburg] just rented a store and just did the whole store in cakes, pies... I mean: it was incredible. And going down there with Andy... it was just overwhelming and so fabulous that Andy was so depressed. He said, 'I'm so depressed.' And, I can remember, right about this same time, going to the Green Gallery, and, I remember, I went to the Green Gallery, and I called Andy. I said, there's somebody at the Green Galley called [James] Rosenquist, who's doing paintings, like of a bottle of 7-Up,' and I said, 'They're fabulous,' I can remember saying; I said, 'I think they're really wonderful. I think, I'd like to buy one.' And Andy said, 'Oh.' He said 'if you buy one of those paintings, I'll never speak to you again.' (PS255)
James Rosenquist: Dick Bellamy [owner of the Green Gallery] I knew as a kind of street poet from the Cedar Tavern who worked at the Hansa Gallery. And here he was all of a sudden wanting to be my art dealer - a very unlikely art dealer... Dick Bellamy never wanted to show Warhol. For some reason he never liked Andy, though many years later he did eventually show his work. (JR120)
Ted Carey: I mean, he [Warhol] was just so depressed that it was all happening and he was not getting any recognition. And he was so depressed that he was thinking of showing at a gallery called the Bodley Gallery, which, then, was, I think, near Serendipity: on that same street; they're now on Madison Avenue. But, it's not a gallery that would have really helped Andy prestige-wise, but he was so desperate, and he knew the man who ran that gallery, and, I think, that he would have even paid the gallery to have shown them. But, I think he may have had second thoughts that this would not have been a good idea, but, anyway, I can remember him saying in desperation, 'Maybe I should have a show at the Bodley Gallery'... but anyway he didn't show there, and so, in the meantime, this particular day, after going to the Oldenburg Store, I called him when I got home, and I said that... I said, 'John [Mann], Muriel and I are having dinner tonight. Do you want to have dinner with us?' and he said, 'No, I'm just too depressed.' So I said, 'Maybe we'll come by afterwards,' So he said, 'All right. Why don't you come by afterwards.' (PS256-7)
Tony Sherman/David Dalton: John Mann is all but invisible in biographies of Warhol (he is not to be confused with David Mann, the owner of the Bodley Gallery and another Warhol friend). Researchers have generally assumed that Warhol and Ted Carey were a couple, portraying Carey as Warhol's sidekick. In fact, Andy was the sidekick to Carey and Mann... (TS30)
Ted Carey: So, after dinner we [Ted, John Mann and Muriel Latow] went to Andy's, and he was very depressed. And Muriel was depressed because she was either, at this time, declaring bankruptcy or was about to declare bankruptcy... And so, Andy said, 'I've got to do something.' He said, 'The cartoon paintings.. it's too late. I've got to do something that really will have a lot of impact that will be different enough from Lichtenstein and Rosenquist, that will be very personal, that won't look like I'm doing exactly what they're doing.' And he said, 'I don't know what to do.' 'So,' he said, 'Muriel, you've got fabulous ideas. Can't you give me an idea?' And so, Muriel said - she said, 'Yes.' 'But,' she said, 'it's going to cost you money.' So Andy said, 'How much?' So she said, 'Fifty dollars.' She said, 'Get your check book and write me a check for fifty dollars.' And Andy ran and got his check book, like, you know, he was really crazy, and he wrote out the check, and he said, 'All right. Give me a fabulous idea.' And so, Muriel said, 'What do you like more than anything else in the world?' So Andy said, 'I don't know. What?' So she said, 'Money. The thing that means more to you and that you like more than anything else in the world is money. You should paint pictures of money.' And so Andy said, 'Oh, that's wonderful.' 'So, then, either that, or, ' she said, 'you've got to find something that's recognizable to almost everybody. Something you see everyday that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell's Soup.' So, Andy said, 'Oh, that sounds fabulous.'
[Note: $50 in 1961 would be equal to about £398.00 in 2014 - a considerable amount to be paid for an idea. g.c.]
So, the next day Andy went out to the supermarket (because we went by the next day), and we came in, and he had a case... of all the soups. So, that's, that's how the idea of the money paintings [came about] because he did... he did money paintings and soup paintings. I don't remember which he did first but I think, they were done at the same time. And the first ones were done by hand... (PS256-7)
Tony Scherman/David Dalton: Mann's recollection of the evening was very different... Muriel, he said, began by feeling Warhol out, asking him what he liked and, at one point, what he disliked. According to Mann, 'If you asked Andy a question like that you got a pretty flippant answer, something off the top of his head. And as I recall, he said, 'I hate grocery shopping.'' As it turned out, Mrs. Warhola often asked Andy to run across the street for groceries. So Muruiel mentally took him into the A&P, down the aisles. It was all very languid and flip on Andy's part. Before long, they got to Campbell's soup and Andy said he hated that, too. He said that his mother made it every day for lunch and after all those years, it was like, 'Oh, Mom - again?'
Which particular Cambell's soups, Latow asked, did Andy dislike? All of them, he said. In that case, suggested Latow, why not run over, buy one of each and paint them all? (TS74-75)