Andy Warhol, A Visual & Conceptual Multimedia Genius

When the young Andy Warhol graduated from college in June 1949, he immediately moved to New York. It took him only three months to begin a brilliant career as a commercial artist. Appropriately enough, Warhol’s first assignment was to illustrate an article in Glamour magazine, “Success is a Job in New York”.
Influenced by the early work of pop artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann, Warhol quickly made the decision to take the leap into “real art”.
In the early sixties, Warhol had become a commercial artist with painterly ambitions – asked by a dealer why his works were smudged, he replied, “But you have to drip. Otherwise they think you’re not sensitive”.
To Warhol, it was a matter of no small interest that the avant-garde could come so close to his own world of commercial art.

Warhol’s early comic strip works were clearly inspired by the work of Roy Lichtenstein, but Warhol quickly found his own style. His iconic portraits of Dollar signs and postage stamps, Coca-Cola bottles, cans and signs; Campbell’s, Mott’s, Kellog’s and Del Monte’s packagings; celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy; tabloids and newspapers such as Daily News and New York Post as well as his recreations of violent imagery from race riots to car crashes, quickly earned the young artist a reputation. Warhol also moved into experimental filmmaking, publishing and multimedia ventures, all the while adding fuel to the Warhol myth.

In 1966, Warhol began presenting The Velvet Underground, the legendary underground band fronted by Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico as part of his traveling multimedia show called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”. A year later, he produced their debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The album cover designed by Warhol is so iconic that people often refer to it as the “Warhol LP” or the “Banana album”.

In art, even the recent past is another country. To experience a frisson of how it felt when Pop Art started to be made, felt and understood radically differently in the early 1960s, visit the current exposition “Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms” at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, USA. Running from Sept 13, 2008 until Feb 15, 2009, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” (named for the Truman Capote novel of the same name) sheds a new light on the celebrated pop artist and focuses on the ideas at the heart of Warhol’s work from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s: embracing consumer culture, exploring sexual identity, challenging social conventions, and erasing distinctions between high and low culture.

This travelling show of ultimate Andy Warhol trivia, is organised by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Moderna Museet Stockholm in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum and presents Warhol’s films, screen-tests, videos and television programmes, which combined with extraordinary archive material, seminal paintings and installations, illuminates his creative process.

Besides Warhol’s film and video work, the exhibit focuses also on less known aspects of the artist by showing some miscellaneous extras. Warhol was obsessive about collecting and on display here are a few of the 600 time capsules that he made in the 1960s, self-consciously establishing a repository of the essential elements of the cultural Zeitgeist that swirled around him. These took the form of cardboard boxes full of old postcards, Christmas cards, telephone notes, photographs, cinema tickets and the odd T-shirt. There are covers of his magazine Interview. There are books, contact sheets, photomat strips and wonderful expanses of his wallpaper: Chairman Mao, cows and Warhol’s face repeated hundreds of times in bright colours.

Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin: “Upon visiting this astounding and ingenious exhibition in Amsterdam late last year, I immediately set the wheels in motion to bring it to the Wexner Center. It explores afresh the remarkable legacy of an artist who utterly transformed the cultural landscape of his own time, but also foretold with uncanny prescience today’s media-obsessed society”.

The mix of celebrity and the underground, reality and artifice, a culture without hierarchies of image or thought, the subtle eroticisation of almost anything he touched: Andy Warhol presented a visual and conceptual overload which emphasises that, inescapably and from all sides, Warhol is our contemporary. “Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms” illuminates his creative process, sheds new light on his work and explores his genius for discerning the way pop culture penetrates our lives.

You can find more info on the Wexner website.

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Coca-Cola Pop Art Gallery: John Clem Clarke

During the second half of the twentieth century, popular culture and the mass media gained a huge significance in American culture. Pop art that was a sign of the times: a product, a tribute to art history and critique of the social situation.
In the sixties, the New York art scene was very diverse, with people coming from different places, backgrounds and art disciplines & movements. The young John Clem Clarke was always fascinated art & advertising. He moved to New York, started painting and quickly made a name in the NYC pop art scene. Art about art is a continuous thread through Clarke’s work. His series re-working the Old Masters, such as Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” are popular icons of the late 60’s.
Clarke’s works, a mix of photo-realism and comic style with a pop art imagery. hang today in major museums as NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art & Whitney Museum of American Art, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, LA’s County Museum and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum.

Clarke works in the pop art tradition of Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Roy Liechtenstein & Tom Wesselmann, drawn on the graphic vocabularies of commercial modernity: “I play back and forth using unique objects and a mass-produced presentation style. You might say that ideas I express are a lot more complex than the apparently simple style I use to express them”.
Speed is vital to the freshness of John Clem Clarke’s works, and animation is the key to his style. Every line is alive, no edge is ever straight. The large size of his artworks plays an important role in the transformation of Clarke’s illustration-based style into high art.
Working on big size canvasses, his work is quite technical. The last years he uses a computer for the design phase, but before he had to work out all specific details as a sketch, use an overhead projector to project this sketches on a canvas, drew the projected image and finally paint it.” His way of working is very similar to the work of illustrators of comics or how graphic designers work today in Photoshop. Clarke: “My first layer was always the black outline. Then I painted a colored layer underneath using the line drawing as an overlay. This is the same technique Disney cartoonists used years ago. Of course, when I was developing it as my own way of working, I didn’t know that. For the actual painting, I use large stencils. I lay them onto the canvas and sponge the paint on. This way there are no brush strokes. Sometimes, I overlay the stencils so that you get the sort of effect you see when a picture isn’t printed quite right -just a little offset. I like that irregular edge”. Just like the works by Andy Warhol or Jean-Michelle Basquiat, John Clem Clarke’s oeuvre is complete with imperfections: “Instead of painting out my “mistakes”, I let them stay on the canvas as alternative solutions to the painting and to show the thought process in making a painting. It bothers me when things look too good. I like to paint and paint and paint, until I get it wrong.”

On weekends, Clarke still roams around flea and antiques markets, looking for vintage retro objects, advertising material and photographs he can use as a point of departure for his artworks. The great ads from the fifties and early sixties are a big source of inspiration: “I try to make the paintings seem as commercially produced as possible. People grew up looking at commercial illustration and print advertising, so they are comfortable with it as a visual style. I make art in a way that people find it immediately accessible”.
Clarke found his future as an artist in his past through the subject matter, themes and styles of forties, fifties & sixties. But Clarke’s works also speak of the present, the moment he creates them, by his vision & the personal touch of his brushstroke.

In the 1910s, the Coca-Cola Company ran an ad of a gorgeous woman drinking a Coke. The copy read: “Nothing is so suggestive of Coca-Cola’s own pure deliciousness as the picture of a beautiful, sweet, wholesome, womanly woman.”
Associating itself with an ideal American girl, Coca-Cola made its appeal to the public. Clarke takes this advertising concept one step further and combines the “Coca-Cola girl” billboard with the all American theme of a police car chase. His painting “Police Behind Cola Billboard” is so filmesque, that we actually wonder what will happen next…