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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 twenty-nine

Georg Frei/Neil Printz: Warhol's first silkscreened paintings, made in early 1962, were based on the front and back faces of one and two dollar bills... David Bourdon noted that he 'saw no silkscreened paintings when he first visited Warhol's studio [in March 1962]... A portion of a large dollar bill painting appears in the background of a photograph taken by Alfred Statler at the end of April... Bourdon's recollections and the Statler photographs bracket a fairly limited interval of time during which the dollar bill paintings were made. Accordingly, they have been dated... March - April 1962. (GF131)

Nathan Gluck: I think he [Warhol] had decided to paint money. And he was not about to draw rows and rows of money. And he couldn't think of what to do, and then he remembered the fellows who were doing the Christmas cards at the Tibor Press - Richard Miller, who was in an automobile accident a long time ago and Floriano Ecchi, who may still be running the company - so, he called them up and asked them if they would make up a silk screen of money. And I think they said, 'no,' but if Andy made a drawing, they would make a silk screen of the drawing. So I think they made a screen of money - of the drawing. And so Andy ran it off and made it serially like that. And from there on, I think, he realized that he could use the silk screen. (PSC61)

Georg Frei/Neil Printz: Two anecdotal versions of the subject's origins have appeared in the Warhol literature. Both tend to mythologize the origins of these paintings and involve transactions that mirror the subject. One account credits the suggestion to art and antiques dealer Muriel Latow and was first cited in Calvin Tomkins's 1970 essay, 'Raggedy Andy.' A similar version was told by Warhol's friend, Ted Carey.  (GF131)

Calvin Tomkins: Andy was desperate for ideas. 'What'll I do next?' he kept asking his new art world friends. Ivan Karp and Henry Geldzahler, a young curator at the Metropolitan who was taking an especially active interest in new artists, had urged Andy to develop images that were not being used by anyone else, but he couldn't think of any. One evening early in 1962, in the apartment over Florence's Pinup, Muriel Latow told Andy that she had an idea but it would cost him money to hear it. Muriel ran an art gallery that was going broke. 'How much?' Andy asked her. Muriel said fifty dollars. Andy went straight to the desk and wrote out a check.

'All right,' Muriel said. 'Now, tell me Andy, what do you love more than anything else?'

'I don't know,' Andy said. 'What?'

'Money,' Muriel said. 'Why don't you paint money?'

Andy thought this was a terrific idea. Later on that evening Muriel also suggested (gratis this time) that he paint something that was so familiar that nobody even noticed it any more, 'something like a can of Campbell's soup.' The next day Andy went out and bought a whole lot of canvas and painted the money pictures and the first Campbell's soup pictures... (CT12)

[Tomkins doesn't give the source of the recollection, but it is similar to Ted Carey's version when he was interviewed in 1978 by Patrick Smith (see earlier). Tomkins' version appeared in 1970 - prior to the Smith interview. gc]

George Frei/Neil Printz: A different account credits the idea of painting money to Eleanor Ward. According to Ward and Emile De Antonio, Ward had promised Warhol a one-person exhibition at Stable Gallery if he would paint her lucky two-dollar bill. (GF131)

Eleanor Ward (Owner of the Stable Gallery): Eleanor Ward (Owner of the Stable Gallery in NYC): I'm not certain of the year, but he was brought into the Gallery by [Emile] de Antonio, and I immediately liked Andy as a person. There was an affinity - an instant inffinity, and the gallery was, at that time, completely booked up, and I couldn't even consider looking as his work - just that there wasn't any chance to take anybody on at that time." (PS504)

Emile De Antonio: Andy wanted to get into the Castelli Gallery and could not... And, so, I thought of my own... friend Eleanor Ward, who had the most beautiful gallery in New York - the old Stable Gallery - And Rauschenberg worked there as a janitor. Cy Twombly, with whom Rauschenberg was living before he met Jasper [Johns] had a show there, but... I decided that Eleanor needed Andy. So, Eleanor came over to Andy's place, and I was there with Andy, and I was drinking Scotch out of a Danish white cup, and Eleanor came in, and we started to drink great big quadruple whiskeys in the white Danish cups... Andy was dragging out these pictures, and she said, 'Well, I'll give you a show, but you've got to paint me a two dollar bill.' She said, 'I always carry my lucky two dollar bill with me.' And, so, she whipped out a two dollar bill, and Andy made a painting out of it, and that was the first Two-Dollar Bill. (ED272)

[There was another dollar bill story that Warhol would probably have been aware of. The founder of I. Miller, the shoe company that Warhol worked for during 1955-1957, attributed his success to to a lucky one dollar bill. Although Miller died in 1929, the story about the lucky one dollar bill became part of the company's history.]

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