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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 fifteen

Rainer Crone: Warhol’s first exhibition, consisting of fifteen drawings, took place in July 1952 in New York. It is significant that the drawings consisted of interpretations of writings by Truman Capote, such as ‘Miriam’ and ‘Shut a Final door’ from the collection of short stories entitled A Tree of Night and two novels Other Voices, Other Rooms and The Grass Harp, the latter having been successfully dramatized in 1951. Unfortunately we do not know the whereabouts of these drawings today. According to Warhol they have been lost. Art critics paid hardly any attention to this exhibition and those who did, dismissed it as being in the tradition of “Beardsley, Lautrec, Demuth, Balthus and Cocteau. ( J[ames] F[itzsimmons], Art Digest, July 1952, p. 9) (RCA71)

Alexander Iolas (art dealer): Early on, I did an exhibition of Andy Warhol in my gallery… The boy is a very important artist, Andy, because he helped America. He mixes very much with youth, and with all the chic people – you know, the bums. When you have such a stupid expression as Andy has – when he is being silent, before the smile starts – when you look like that, you can do anything you want in the world. As Christ said to all those priests, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me,’ and Warhol is a horrible child. He has helped America to get rid of its Puritanism, either with his half-pornographic, half-esthetic films or else with his portraits of the fake stars he has around him and the real stars he has always liked. He’s an amazing person, and probably someday he will be considered a saint. (LC53-54)

Joseph Groell: He was very involved to meet Truman Capote at the time, I guess… he seemed to Andy the person to met. And I thought, several years later, when Truman would have a big party and there were a lot of celebrities there… ‘Oh, gee, Andy is on the top of it all.’ For Andy, at the time, that was a person that was important to meddle and to be involved with in some way. (PSC34)

Truman Capote: When he was a child, Andy Warhol had this obsession about me and used to write me from Pittsburgh... When he came to New York, he used to stand outside my house, just stand out there all day waiting for me to come out. He wanted to become a friend of mine, wanted to speak to me, to talk to me. He nearly drove me crazy. (LG187)

Robert Fleisher: … he [Warhol] was madly in love with him [Capote]. There was a photograph of Truman Capote on a couch, stretched out in a plaid vest, and that’s what sent him off provisionally. As I remember, he had that around all the time and talked about it… it’s from the back of Other Voices, Other Rooms(PSC117)

Truman Capote picture on Other Voices Other Rooms

The photograph of Truman Capote from the back cover of Other Voices Other Rooms that “sent” Warhol “off provisionally”

Thomas Kiedrowski (author of Andy Warhol's New York: Four Walks - Uptown to Downtown): Warhol sent Capote postcards and telephoned frequently, initially becoming friendly with his mother, Nina. The two went out on tea dates before spending an afternoon at the Blarney Stone, then on Third Avenue; Warhol soon realized she was just looking for a drinking companion… (TK12)

Andy Warhol to Bob Colacello and Truman Capote (1973): … I used to write to Truman every day – for years – until his mother told me to stop it. Remember?

Truman Capote: I don’t remember my mother doing that, no.

Andy: She did. She called me up and said it. She was really sweet.

Truman: She was drunk… she was an alcoholic when you met her. She had been an alcoholic since I was 16, so she was an alcoholic when you met her…

Andy: I never knew that.

Truman: You didn’t realize it?

Andy: No. She was really sweet.

Truman: Well, she had this sort of sweet thing, and then suddenly she’d – Well, you know, she committed suicide.

Andy: She did? Oh, I didn’t know that. I thought she just got sick.

Truman: No, no, no, no. She committed suicide. (AWA29/34)

[Note: Truman Capote’s mother died about two years after the exhibition – in 1954. The above comments were made in the 12 April 1973 issue of Rolling Stone. The magazine had commissioned Capote to write an article about the band, The Rolling Stones, and sent him on tour with them. When he came back without having written anything, the magazine asked Warhol to interview Capote about the tour for the magazine. Warhol was accompanied by Bob Colacello who was, at the time, a contributing editor of Interview magazine. g.c.]

Thomas Kiedrowski: On June 16, 1952, the Hugo Gallery… displayed Warhol’s “15 Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote,” along with sculptures and drawings by Irving Sherman. (TK12)

David Mann: Very few people came [to the exhibition] because it was pretty much the end of the season… I remember that Truman came and looked at them. He loved them… He came with his mother. They both liked them very much… The next thing I knew, Andy told me he’d won some kind of poster contest. I think it was for NBC, a series of programs they were doing against drugs [“The Nation’s Nightmare”]. He did one of his black-and-white drawings. They used that and that kind of shoved him to the forefront. (FG95)

See Andy Warhol - "The Nation's Nightmare."

Lynn Spigel: Although barely discussed by historians and critics, Warhol was actually a major player in the emerging field of television art. In the early 1950s Warhol befriended art designers at television networks, including NBC peacock designer John J. Graham and CBS set designer Charles Lisanby, who was one of Warhol's closest companions... As Warhol recalls in his diary, during the 1950s he designed weather drawings for CBS. But his ambitions also led him to become a 'signature' artist, making title art and ads for both NBC and CBS and, like [Ben] Shahn, he won awards and large commissions... (LS255-6)

Peter Palazzo (art director): I first met Andy around 1950-51, when he did a few drawings for American [Amerika] magazine. I was the art director. The magazine was published by the government and sent overseas. We used him primarily because he had a style and a technique that was very reminiscent of Ben Shahn, [who] was a lot more expensive and not available. (PSC108)

[Note: Although Palazzo refers to American magazine, he actually means Amerika magazine - a propaganda journal distributed to Communist countries such as Russia and Czechoslovakia. (FP177) Palazzo’s New York Times obituary notes that Palazzo “designed Amerika, a Russian-language magazine published by the State Department.“ (SH) Warhol’s illustrations in the magazine are not known. Palazzo later became the art director for I.Miller shoes which hired Warhol as their illustrator in 1955. gc]

Lynn Spigel: ... like [Ben] Shahn, Warhol used foreshortening to create a sense of distortion and abstraction of the human form, and his 'blotted line' technique resembled Shahn's ragged lines. In the early 1950s, contemporaries even saw Warhol as the 'cheap' Ben Shahn. (LS255-256)

Howard Greenfeld (Ben Shahn biographer): Ben had been a subject of FBI investigations for many years … [but] nothing was more threatening to the freedom of American writers, actors, musicians, and artists than Counterattack [newsletter]. This infamous hate sheet was first published in 1947, at the beginning of the [McCarthy era] witchhunt… Ben’s experience with Counterattack was a perfect example of the power of this scurrilous newsletter. The campaign against him and, simultaneously against CBS, Ben’s employer and the most liberal of the radio and television networks, was launched with the July 25, 1952 issue. It was relentlessly logical. CBS had run an ad promoting its coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions…[and] the illustration used in the advertisement had been drawn by Ben Shahn. The charges leveled against Ben were the usual ones. He had contributed artwork to a number of Communist magazines and newspapers. He had backed many front organizations… After the publication’s warning that a number of companies would withdraw their ads from CBS if the network continued to use Shahn’s art, Ben’s close friend William Golden, CBS’s art director, relayed orders from above that Shahn’s work would be withdrawn from future ads; in addition, Golden hired a replacement to make reasonably accurate copies of Ben’s work… CBS didn’t use Ben again until March 1954, but he managed to survive.  (HG276/280/ 281)

Julia Ann Weekes (journalist): Warhol’s official position was political neutrality… (JW)

Paul Warhola: Andy was more or less a commercial artist back in '52, going out to get magazine work, doing fashions and so on. He did TV work as early as '52: I remember a weekly show, 'Studio 1' on NBC - Andy did several title drawings for the program. We were proud of him back then too. Andy was very successful as a commercial artist. he worked with a number of other TV programs like 'Sew Box,' where he also did the title drawings. Stuff like that got him started. (RU71)

Lynn Spigel (professor at Northwestern University): Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, all three networks hired leading artists, designers, and photographers like Ben Shahn, Feliks Topolski, Leo Lionni, René Bouché, John Groth, Georg Olden, Andy Warhol, Paul Strand, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, and Richard Avedon to design on-air and publicity art. So, too, in the 1950s advertising agencies began to establish art departments dedicated to television... Early television audiences saw variety shows, soap operas, sit-coms, dramas, news, and commercials packaged within a distinctly modern graphic look designed by some of the nation's leading graphic artists and scenic designers... CBS was the network that was most interested in modern art and design...  (LS6-7/16)

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