Andy Warhol Pre-Pop
by Gary Comenas
Andy Warhol's Art Directors Club award for The Nation's Nightmare in 1952 brought him additional attention and success as a commercial artist. He continued to produce his self-published portfolios, distributing them to art directors, along with other quirky gifts. Klauber recalled that "the nature of Andy's promotion was so personal... that it really had an influence in making him known... People began collecting them and anticipated receiving them. If you went into an ad agency you would often see an Andy Warhol thing out."1 Warhol and Ralph T. Ward ("Corkie") collaborated on two further portfolios the following year (1953): a is an alphabet and LOVE IS A PiNk CAKE. Again Warhol did the illustrations and Ward did the text.
242 LEXINGTON AVENUE
In the summer of 1953 Warhol and his mother moved from their apartment on East 75th Street to a floor-through apartment in a four story building at 242 Lexington Avenue. According to Warhol biographers David Bourdon and Victor Bockris, Warhol subleased the apartment from another ex-classmate at Carnegie Tech., Leonard Kessler.2
Kessler, who would later become known as a writer and illustrator of children's books, had moved to New York around the same time as Pearlstein and Warhol. As with Pearlstein, Kessler's education had been interrupted by military service.
"I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, went into the Army in 1942, and was assigned to the 28th Infantry Division as a scout and observer... I returned to Pittsburgh in 1946 and was a student at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), studying painting and design. In 1949 my wife and I, along with fellow students Philip Pearlstein and Andy Warhol, left for the Big Apple…New York. I wanted to become a painter, Pearlstein wanted to be a graphic artist, and Andy just wanted to be Andy. Well, Philip became a Realist painter, Andy first was a commercial illustrator…then one of the giants of pop art (and was still Andy), and I became a writer and illustrator of books for kids. Life is a series of detours."3
The apartment was on the top floor with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Initially, Kessler used some of the space as a studio before Warhol signed a new lease with the owner.4 According to George Klauber, Warhol had got the apartment through Fritzie Wood.5 Wood lived in the building and was a member of a theatrical group called Theater 12 which Warhol was also involved with. Also living in the building, on the third floor, was Calvin Holt, who, the following year, would open the cafe boutique Serendipity 3 where Warhol would exhibit and sell his drawings.6
"My ex-husband was in publishing at the time, and we knew George Klauber, Andy's classmate. Andy took the apartment at 242 Lexington that was the top floor. Calvin Holt lived there. Calvin was one of the originators of Serendipity. That top floor had fireplaces, and it seems to me that his cats lived in the back room, where Mrs. Warhola lived... Andy occasionally dropped in, but he wasn't over for parties. It was a friendship as such, and, of course, he was homosexual, and we were not. So, he was going on another thing. He had parties occasionally. He really couldn't have parties upstairs... no room, no sense of elegance. Later, Andy also rented the parlor floor."7
Theater 12 may also have been referred to as "The 12th Street Players." A program designed by Warhol and previously attributed to c. 1950 is titled The 12th Street Players. Warhol was involved with Theater 12 for a short period around 1952 - 53.8 It is unlikely that he would have been involved with two groups with such similar names. George Klauber was briefly a member of the group, along with Arthur and Lois Elias who had attended Carnegie Tech. with Warhol.9 The group's name originated from the address of the founders, Bert Greene and Denis Vaughn, who shared an apartment on West 12th Street in Greenwich Village. Greene, previously the art director for Esquire magazine, knew George Klauber from Pratt Institute where both had studied.
"Theater 12 was begun by me and Dennis Vaughn... I'd known George from Pratt, and he brought Andy in. What happened was, we'd meet here on Mondays and read plays. We started reading American plays and then more profound plays, such as Brecht, George Kaiser and became interested in German Expressionism. The first time that Andy came here, as I remember, we did The Way of the World by Congreve. He was a dreadful reader... I mean, he has no talent at all in this direction. I, of course, knew who he was because even then in 1953, he had a small reputation in advertising... I was an art director all the while I was trying to be a writer... usually advertising agencies and the last job I had I was at a magazine - at Esquire. But I knew Andy from that because of my interest in graphics, and I was very impressed by his reputation..."10
Denis Vaughn was equally unimpressed with Warhol's acting ability. Vaughn would later comment about Warhol, "Andy was very stupid - which nobody every says about him. He was about as dreary and colourless as anybody could possibly be. I mean, he faded into the woodwork and the only thing that showed up was his red nose."11 Due to his lack of acting ability, Warhol was relegated to designing sets for Theater 12 productions.
"I don't know why Andy wasn't a part of us when we moved to a real theater. He offered to do sets when we were still in my apartment. One set had black and white drawings for a Sardi's Restaurant set and a cardboard bar. He did sets for three plays. The Sardi's set was for a play by William Larner. He also did sets for Barrie's The Twelve Pound Look... And there's a man who was in the group, who's now dead, named Aaron Fine... He was a poster artist. He did collage... All of those great posters - that era of great posters in the early 1950s. I think, ten years he did them, and he wrote a couple of children's books, and he was a playwright. And it was his play, My Blackmailer, that Andy did his best set for. And it was very original. It was based on a set of screens, and Andy decorated them, and, then, the screens were folded and they became other things. They were turned around, and they were still other things. They were just, really folding screens... After Andy began his Pop Art, Aaron [Fine] asked him why he was doing it, and Andy said, 'It's the synthesis of nothingness,' which is, of course, the Dada reply."12
According to Greene's interviewer, Patrick Smith, "in 1953 or 1954" Theater 12 produced Jean Paul Sartre's The Flies off-Broadway, "in which they rented a theatre for 100 dollars for weekend shows."13 Fritzie Wood recalled that the production ran for six weeks.14 However, Warhol was no longer a part of the group at that time. He was becoming increasingly busy as a successful commercial artist, promoting himself through the production of his self published limited edition portfolios. In c.1955 he collaborated with Charles Lisanby on 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy.
25 CATS NAME SAM AND ONE BLUE PUSSY (c.1955)
The 25 Cats portfolio has been attributed to various dates. In Warhol, David Bourdon dated it as c. 1955 although in an exhibition that took place the same year as the publication of Bourdon's book, it was attributed to 1954.15 The current publication of the Andy Warhol Museum, Andy Warhol 365 Takes, notes that Warhol met Lisanby in 1956, which would date 25 Cats as 1956 or later.16 However, Bourdon, who interviewed Lisanby on August 7, 1987, wrote that Lisanby and Warhol met "at a party in 1954 and instantly became friends."17 The 2009 biography of Warhol - Pop The Genius of Warhol indicates that "Andy and Lisanby met at a party in late 1955." (SC28/See also c. LATE 1955: ANDY WARHOL MEETS CHARLES LISANBY.)
Although Lisanby was credited on 25 Cats Name Sam, there was actually no text in the book. He had just come up with the suggestive title.The letter "d" was missing from the word "name" because Warhol had enlisted his mother to do the calligraphy. She left the "d" out and he kept the error in. Warhol liked to maintain the random imperfections that were often caused by the techniques he utilized. His art assistant during the 1960s, Gerard Malanga later recalled in regard to the silk screening process that Warhol started employing in the early 1960s, "There were always mistakes, maybe there was something that was off-register - we missed our registration mark and there might have been a little bit of the painting showing through the black area on the edge of the surface and we just kept it... it was all part of the art, part of the process."18 Malanga compared Warhol's off-registered results to "the chance method that Cage sort of utilized in his music," noting that "something fantastic would come out most of the time."19
When Robert Fleisher commissioned Warhol to do stationery for Bergdorf Goodman, he also recalled that Warhol submitted off-registered artwork. "Accidental" mistakes became part of his style.
"... when you do a four-colour process, you needed to do a black line drawing, after you do the original sketch and the final artwork, and you had to break it down by colour separation. He hated to do that! You had to do your line drawing on one, and then each colour on a separate acetate, and then it was zeroed in on exactly the spot it had to hit to make the plates to run it. Well, his stuff was so impossible. It came in patched, torn, painted over in white where he had made a mistake. Nothing was zeroed in. Cross-hatches never matched. I always used to have somebody redo all of that - the stationery line and the invitations and the Christmas card - completely had to be re-set up. They were on like scraps of paper... The things didn't register because he didn't know how to do it. He didn't have the patience. A lot of that stuff was accidental, and then, he used it, and then that became his style."20
Warhol's 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy actually only contained 16 cats named Sam.21 Warhol had started collecting cats when he lived on 75th Street in order to keep the mice at bay.22 By the time he and his mother moved to Lexington Avenue, they had so many cats that friends remembered them constantly giving away kittens.23 The cats were all named Sam except for one who was called Hester. When a ground floor apartment became available in their building, Warhol rented it, keeping the top floor as well. Warhol moved to the ground floor and used the top floor as his studio, his mother's living space and home to all the cats.24
The illustrations used in Warhol's book were based on pictures found in other books rather than on Warhol's actual cats. Nathan Gluck thought that Warhol's drawings were based on cat photographs done by a man named "Walter Chandoha who specialized in taking photographs of cats."25 Lisanby had a copy of Chandoha's book, All Kinds of Cats, published in 1952.26
Although Warhol had already produced unbound portfolios of his work, 25 Cats was a bound artist's book, printed by Seymour Berlin.27 Berlin also printed some of Warhol's other self-published books (such as the later Gold Book and Wild Raspberries) as well as Christmas cards and promotional flyers ("Happy Butterfly Day") for the artist.
"... one of the series that we did together was the cat book, in which Charles Lisanby did the words and Andy did the drawings, and he had some persons doing the colouring of it. In other words, we printed up I think about 150 cat books, which were printed black and watercoloured in. And he used this strictly not to sell, but as a means of giving it out to different customers to promote himself... A few were done for customers, but 99 percent were done as promotional things for Andy to promote himself primarily..."28
Charles Lisanby was a set designer who worked both in television and on Broadway. In 1951 he had assisted the set and costume designer, Oliver Messel, on the Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet starring Olivia De Haviland as Juliet in her Broadway debut. Later, after meeting Warhol, he also assisted Cecil Beaton with set and costume design of the controversial production of Samuel Barber's opera, Vanessa, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 15, 1958. However, Lisanby would become mostly known for his television work. From 1970 - 71 he was the art director of the Red Skelton television show and in 1988 won an emmy as the production designer for a Barry Manilow special - Big Fun on Swing Street. Some of Warhol's "boy" drawings from the 1950s were sketches of Lisanby.
"I met Andy at a party given by another... designer of scenery... He [Warhol] was interested in the fact that I was working in television and because other very fine artists like Ben Shahn worked in television occasionally - they were commissioned to do title cards for Playhouse 90 or other things like that - earlier shows than that, even. And Andy wanted to do that. Andy always wanted to do anything that was going to get him publicity... The one thing then that he wanted more than anything else was to be famous. I asked him once if he wanted to be a great artist, and he said, "No, I'd rather be famous."29
According to Lisanby, Warhol was interested in him sexually although the two never had sex.
"He [Warhol] never had a great sex drive, but he was interested in it... he had a great lack of confidence about himself physically... He had very definitely the idea that if he had an operation on his nose, which was, kind of bulbous, then suddenly, that would change his life... he thought that if he had his nose operated upon that he would become an Adonis and that I and other people would suddenly think that he is as physically attractive as many of the people that he admired because of their attractiveness... I feel, I think, he felt that my reaction to him, my attitude toward him perhaps had something to do with something physical. It never did. Ever. I liked him because he was one of the most interesting people that I had ever known at that point and because he was good and because he was sweet and gentle... I suspect, people have taken advantage of that all his life."30
It was with Lisanby's help that Warhol would later have cosmetic medical treatment on his nose when, in the mid 1950s, Lisanby arranged for Warhol to see his doctor - Dr. Webster.
"... at the time that I knew him [Warhol] he was already having trouble with his nose... my doctor [who] is a very, very good friend of mine saw... him and told him it was a condition that would only worsen with time, and he suggested that he [Warhol] do something about it. I don't really know the medical term for it, but it's the kind of thing that causes in old age a nose like W.C. Fields had... and it's sometimes associated in people's minds with over-drinking or that kind of thing. It really isn't at all. It's a physical condition. So, Andy had that done. Not to change the shape of his nose because he never had a hooked nose or anything like that and it was an operation by a plastic surgeon though."31
George Hartman and Buddy Radish, who were friends of Nathan Gluck and participated in some of Warhol's colouring parties, remembered going to visit Warhol after a nose operation which Radish thought was "some sort of plastic surgery for his nose." Hartman thought this was "about 1955 or later, probably '56 or maybe '57" and that after the procedure, "there wasn't any change in the shape of his nose. It was still bulbous."32
Andy Warhol with Altered Nose
(Photo: Otto Fenn, ca. 1952)
The exact dates and extent of Warhol's cosmetic surgery is unknown. In his biography on Warhol, David Bourdon wrote that in 1957 "Andy checked into St. Luke's Hospital for a skin-planing operation."33 Fred Lawrence Guiles wrote in Loner at the Ball that Warhol had "the large beige discoloration" removed from his face in the mid-1950s and "a bit later" had his bulbous nose "refined."34 Victor Bockris noted in his Warhol biography that the artist had his nose "scrapped" in the autumn of 1956.35 In the early 1950s, Otto Fenn had taken a photograph of Warhol known as "Andy Warhol with Altered Nose" on which Warhol performed his own cosmetic surgery - using a black marker to make his nose appear thinner.35b Warhol would make a nose job the subject of one of early Pop paintings when he painted Before and After in 1961.
Warhol's effort at self-improvement was not limited to his nose. In addition to printing some of Warhol's portfolios, cards and flyers, Seymour Berlin would later also become Warhol's gym partner. He remembered going with Warhol to the Y.M.C.A. on 23rd Street for in the "late fifties or early sixties." According to Berlin, Warhol "worked out there for about a year. He used to go with me two or three times a week... working out. As a matter of fact, he was up to 15 dips at the parallel bars. I don't think an average person could do one. So, he built up a lot of strength. He wanted to have larger pectorals, and he did other exercises along with it."36
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