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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 nineteen

Bert Greene: I remember that he [Warhol] was very dependent upon tracing paper. I mean, he usually would trace an image from something… when he had an image he would take it. I mean he would change it and redo it and then, when he was doing those final inkings – at one point, he used to work on glass because it kept the ink longer. He would press blotter paper against it. I remember watching him: he would put the glass over an image – he did something from the New York Times of a man hitting somebody with an umbrella, I remember. He did it for Seventeen magazine. And he was doing this drawing quickly: so quickly, that he could blot it and once he blotted it then he realized that he didn’t like it. Then he would do another drawing and change it and vary it. But it was always a reverse image of what he was doing. He found that the glass didn’t soak up as fast as the other medium - as paper would, as a matter of fact.

He used to go to the New York Public Library’s print collection. Andy said, 'Oh, you just go to the Public Library and take out as much as you want, and you just say that you lost them, or they were burned. And you only have to pay two cents a picture.'… Life [magazine] was his favourite source. It really was. And the New York Times... (PS340-41/343)

Carl Willers: I was working in the New York Public Library when I first came to New York, in the Picture Collections, where I learned about things - photography for one thing. Andy used the Picture Collection a lot at that time because he was doing a lot of illustrating, and he would often come there and check out hundreds of pictures. He would use them for ideas. He would want a picture of such-and-such, like an old Victorian back porch because he needed to put it in an ad, to put a pair of shoes on it or something. And he'd go to the Picture Collection and he'd get these out, and he used them a lot in his work. Sometimes, he'd simply copy them... I got to know him from working with him there. He'd invite me to some picnic - in Central Park or however people went out on a picnic - I think that's how I met him... It must have been in 1953 because it was the first year I was living here...

He did paintings of me on his work-table in the manner of the blotted-line technique, in effect. The dimensions were fairly large: maybe four feet by five feet. I would be lying down. In one, there's two figures which are both me. One, I'm on my back, and the other, I'm on my side, lying as if right behind and above the other figure. Andy gave it to me, and I gave it away. They were sketchy figures. There were quite a few of these paintings. I got to [know] Andy quite well, and he always looked bedraggled: always had his tie lopsided, as if he didn't have time to tie it, and he never tied his shoe laces, and he even wore different colored socks, but he bought all of his clothes at Brooks Brothers. And he always wore a hat - cap. And he always wore it because he was very self-conscious about going bald, and he'd even wear it at dinner parties. I'd tell him to get a hairpiece, and he finally did.... around '55, and it made him look younger... (PS143-44)

[Note: Carl Willers is quoted in different sources by different names. In Thomas Kiedrowski's book, Andy Warhol's New York, he is called Carl Willers. In Patrick S. Smith's book, Warhol: Conversations about the Artist, he is referred to as 'Alfred Carlton Walters.' g.c.]

Henry Geldzahler (curator): The work of the 50's... I used to tell Andy it looks like [if] Jean Cocteau had been gay, he might have worked something like that. (PS307)

Bert Greene: Andy... was like a groupie. I have something that I remember, and it’s so funny. Andy gave me pornography which he said was done by Cocteau. And he said 'They’re by Cocteau.' And I said, 'They’re not Cocteau. Cocteau wouldn’t draw like this.' They were kind of, like husky, husky drawings like Tom of Finland. Right? Sort of brawny. And I said, 'This couldn’t be Cocteau...' And Warhol said, 'I guarantee you those are Cocteau’s.' They were photographs… He insisted that these were drawings by Cocteau… And I never believed it. (PS340-41/343)

Nathan Gluck: ... there was a book by Cocteau of drawings that came out in the '20s... and Andy, I think, saw a reprint of it somewhere and thought it was a great book and wanted to get a copy. I don't know. But it had all of Cocteau's drawings of people at the piano and people in bars and things like that... The title of the book is: Jean Cocteau, Dessins (Paris: Stock, 1924)... (PS328)

Patrick S. Smith: In order to have as many illustrative commissions as possible, Warhol had employed assistants by 1955. His first assistant was Vito Giallo, a freelance artist and coordinator of the Loft Gallery... Warhol's next commercial art assistant was his most important one. An associate of Warhol from 1955 until 1964-5, Nathan Gluck's work may be considered synonymous with his employer's commercial art. (PS27)

Nathan Gluck: I met him [Warhol] when he first came to New York. It must have been maybe 1950. He had gone to see a friend of mine. And this friend said Andy's work was interesting, so Andy came over and showed it to me. At that time, he was starting to freelance. We became friends. (UW28)

Victor Giallo: In the '50s I worked for this well-known graphic designer, Jack Wolfgang Beck. I was his only assistant. Jack had this long loft studio on East 49th Street between First and York... And it was on the top floor naturally - a five flight walk-up. We had all this extra space - we just needed a small room to do our work. So Jack said, 'What can we do with this space?' I said 'Well, what about an art gallery?' He liked the idea, and we decided to call it The Loft Gallery. Jack rented the space, and he let me run the gallery.

So I got myself, Jack, Nathan Gluck, and his friend Clint Hamilton to show work at the gallery. And then Nathan said, 'Well, let's have Andy.' And I said, 'Oh great.' So Andy exhibited with us as well. We were all illustrators, but we wanted to be fine artists. Actually, that's one of the comments that the famous critic who was also a painter, Fairfield Porter, made when he came and reviewed our first group show. He was very nice, and he stayed for about an hour. But then when the review came out he said we were just a bunch of commercial artists who wanted to be painters. (UW19)

Thomas Kiedrowski: Artist Vito Giallo appropriated the front room of Jack Wolfgang Beck's large loft space here to hold art exhibits beginning in 1954. Giallo, along with his friends Nathan Gluck and Clint Hamilton, deliberated over who should be invited to be part of the [Loft] gallery. They decided to ask Andy Warhol to join the collective. (TK79)

Nathan Gluck: Well, The Loft Gallery was a big loft, and I think, it was used for his advertising studio, and he had a gallery for exhibitions. And Andy had at least two shows there. I remember one show that [was] just crumpled paper. And, I think, there was another show of drawings. And part of the floor was shared by a Japanese picture framer named Louis Shima... (PS329)

andy warhol exhibition at the loft flyer

Invitation to the opening of the first show at The Loft Gallery

Thomas Kiedrowski: The first show opened on April 9 [1954] with seven artists: Beck, Giallo, Jacques B. Willaumez, Edward Rager and three Carnegie Tech alumni: Allan Hugh Clarke, Gillian Jagger, and Andy Warhol. Warhol's work resembled more of an installation than a show of traditional paintings. He drew small figures on pieces of marbled Strathmore paper, then folded them into large pyramidal shapes. The ten or so works were pinned to the wall, but the weight made them fall to the ground more often than not. Reviewers nicknamed the works 'crumpled' drawings, after repeated falling and re-pinning. (TK79)

Nathan Gluck: Andy had the show with the marbleized paper there [at The Loft]. I taught him how to marbleize paper. All you do is sprinkle thinned-out oil paint on water and then lay paper down on top of it or simply immerse it... Andy did these strange marbled things, and then he crumpled them up and just left them around on the floor... I thought Andy had installed them on the floor. Well, maybe by the time you came to see the show it was all on the floor. (UW31)

Vito Giallo: He didn’t call it Origami at all. But that’s the best description of it. He would start with a square piece of paper. He would take the paper, and then he would fold it, and somehow he got a lot of pyramids out of it. Then he would open it up one way or another, and some pyramids would be sticking out. Next he would do drawings of heads and people on parts of the pyramids, and he did a lot of marbleizing, oil on water. Finally, he’d hang them up so that they were sticking out from the wall. We used pushpins to hang them up, and they kept falling down; I must have picked those pieces up a hundred times.

I think he threw them all out. He never sold anything at the gallery. Very few of us did. But I know nobody even looked at this show. I thought it was fascinating. I was amazed. It was his turn to do a one-man show, and I thought it would be drawings and paintings, something straightforward. And then those things came in. I was just shocked.’ (UW22)

Thomas Kiedrowski: On May 17 [1954], Warhol was part of a group show [at the The Loft] including Allan Hugh Clarke and Edward Rager, but this time he illustrated poems and hung them in a conventional manner. They reminded one reviewer of unrefined imitations of Jean Cocteau drawings. Warhol's last show at The Loft would be his first solo New York show, opening October 10, 1954, and featuring drawings of the famous dancer John Butler. Giallo remembers that they were astounded when John Butler came to the show. The dancer received several drawings from Warhol in 1954. (TKA79)

[Note: According to Kiedrowski, The Loft Gallery closed by the summer of 1955, "ending with a show of collages by Clint Hamilton. Giallo, who had managed the gallery, immediately started to work for Warhol... After Giallo left the job in 1956, Warhol employed Nathan Gluck as an assistant until the mid-sixties, paying him the minimum wage as he did with Giallo and later paid assistants." (TKA79/86) g.c.]

David Bourdon: Before long, Warhol's first pair of Siamese cats, Hester and Sam, had multiplied. With the exception of Hester, all the cats were named Sam. Were there eight, seventeen, or twenty-five cats in the apartment? None of Warhol's friends agree on the number, but all of them remember the artist and his mother constantly giving away kittens. The cats left messes everywhere, form the drafting table to the bathtub, and soiled Andy's drawings and his mail. The beds were kept covered with plastic sheets. Mrs. Warhola, who providently kept a mob and a bucket of water in the kitchen was always rushing into action, cleaning up the feline 'accidents' as well as the spilled ink. Andy never got angry at the situation. He just accepted it. (DB33)

Paul Warhola: When Andy moved to New York my mother felt that after my brother got married she would move in with Andy... and living with Andy in New York she had a lot of time for herself. And he wanted to entertain her and so he asked if she wouldn't like to draw something, and she said she'd like to draw cats. They kept a lot of cats back then. The first cat was called Hester. She must have had twenty litters in her lifetime. The girl who gave Andy Hester was supposed to have been a maid to the famous actress Gloria Swanson. Someone else brought another cat, this time a tom. That's the reason for the thirty litters. Together that makes sixty, seventy cats. Sometimes someone would take one. Mother thought up names for the rest based on the name Sam: Sammy, Samko, Little Sam, Big Sam. And so our mother drew a book full of cats. Andy liked it so much he had a limited run of them printed and gave them to his friends and business contacts for Christmas. Later he got mother to create a similar book of angels. First she used to draw them, and then she coloured them in. Andy distributed these books as gifts. (RU61)

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