November 10 – December 29, 2007
Woodward Gallery is proud to present Andy Warhol: The Fabulous Fifties – a rare perspective of the artist’s genuine illustrations on paper from a half a century ago. Woodward Gallery has gathered many rare, intimate examples of this historic period to challenge even the most Warhol savvy observer to reflect and astonish over the time before Warhol’s POP success. To better understand Warhol, and his growth as a fine artist, one needs to consider his history and the evolution of his early work.
Warhol enrolled in The Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1945 from his humble home in McKeesport, Pennsylvania where he would leave his Czechoslovakian mother, his two brothers and his father to begin a life in the arts. He met Philip Perlstein and Dorothy Kantor (who later became Perlstein’s wife), Arthur Elias, and a painter in his mid thirties, John Regan. Although Warhol was an outcast in his immigrant ghetto neighborhood, this new group quickly became roommates and friends. They would invite other friends who performed in a chamber orchestra to play at their parties, and when they went out they attended highly cultural events and performances.
In college, Andy was working out a style based on Ben Shahn, Paul Klee and Alexander Calder. His friends remembered him to be innately talented. He graduated from Carnegie in 1949 and moved to New York.
Warhol came into his own in NYC in the ‘50’s. He enjoyed a fabulous time at what was the upbeat period for New York artists, writers, theater directors, and actors who were seen as popular, heroic figures. He accepted commercial work immediately at Glamour magazine and Harper’s Bazaar. Warhol moved out of the apartment with Perlstein and into a duplex apartment with his mother at Lexington Avenue and Thirty-third Street. Warhol dramatically increased his earnings and accepted more design work than he could possibly handle by hiring assistants to complete his assignments – a revolutionary concept for the design world. Warhol drew anything and everything with equal ease. He was always out looking for more work and never seemed disinterested or unsure of how he would create those ads.
He made Christmas Cards and stationery for Bergdorf’s, and even window display designs for Bonwit Teller and Tiffany. In 1955, he became the regular shoe illustrator for The New York Times. He won award after award for his graphic artwork. By 1957, he was as celebrated as a commercial artist could be! He did not neglect his interest in celebrity and fine art projects. Being infatuated with celebrity, in 1952, he had his first show of drawings based on Truman Capote’s stories. He even drew Central Park from Capote’s apartment building. Warhol received praise and affection for his work. He was hopeful that famous people would want to meet him by becoming well known himself.
Warhol’s commercial art mailing list included art directors and society people. To secure his position as the highly sought after New York illustrator and graphic artist, Warhol gave increasingly elaborate gifts each month rather than the customary commercial greeting for Christmas. In 1953-57, he created books as gifts: 25 Cats, A la Recherche du Shoe Perdu, In the Bottom of My Garden, and The Gold Book. He would draw cherubs, beautiful young men and butterflies and had coloring parties to socialize with his commercial crowd and friends.
In 1954, Stephen Bruce started a successful café known as Serendipity with two friends. Warhol gave the rejected drawings from his commercial work to Stephen Bruce who would exhibit ten at a time in the new café set against the space’s all white walls and colorful Tiffany lamps. He named his shoe drawings after socialites and celebrities. These pictures sold out and Warhol offered new drawings for the Serendipity ongoing exhibition. He loved the place and was often seen there in the late afternoon before the magazine editors, art directors, and theater people would flock into the café and admire his work.
In 1957, Warhol met Suzie Frankfurt, the then wife of an important advertising executive. Together they created text and imagery for the Wild Raspberries book which was bound by some downtown rabbis and sold at Bloomingdale’s. Warhol even added gold leaf, collage and vibrant color to make the limited, hand-made series more compelling.
By 1959, he had achieved such success as a graphic illustrator that Warhol ambitiously wanted to move into fine art and conquer it as well. He said, “I want to be Matisse!” Perhaps predestined to gain the kind of recognition and respect of a serious, fine artist.