The life and work of Andy Warhol has inspired many writers to tell of the artist’s secrets in published writings. However, Carter Ratcliff accomplishes this feat in a unique fashion, profiling Warhol’s work in Andy Warhol. A must-read for anybody interested in the origins of American Pop art, Ratcliff’s book touches on all aspects of Warhol’s work.
Segmented chronologically, Ratcliff explains the influence and significance of select paintings, as well as sections devoted to Warhol’s sketches, photographs, movies and notes on the techniques used by the artist. This format, combined with the inclusion of nearly 100 prints of paintings, is effective because a natural theme flows through the chronological ordering of the monograph. Some of the influences are obvious in Warhol’s work. However, the cumulative effect of the artist’s attempts is more easily understood through the chronological ordering of the pieces. The chronological ordering helps the reader understand what social or personal beliefs or conflicts the artist was dealing with pertaining to the given time period. For example, Warhol produced many pieces with singular subject matter displayed multiple times as in his Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and dollar signs, possibly just comforting symbols to Warhol as well as the American Pop Culture. Also, Ratcliff leads the reader on a journey through the details, effects and consequences of the work. The author also describes similarities in select Warhol pieces. The development of Warhol as an artist is easily understood using this format, as his work transforms from the playful character of Saturday’s Popeye
(Figure 1) to the realism of Skull or the political power of the Hammer and Sickle series.
Andy Warhol takes a convincing and comprehensive look at the pursuits of the artist, basing observations on a plethora of sources. The information cited in each section is a cumulation of Ratcliff’s investigation, interviews with Warhol and references to the writings of other critics. Basing his survey largely in the ideas of others, Ratcliff discovers little original information. Referring to such credible s as Robert Rosenblume’s description of Julia Warhola , saying that Warhol’s portrait of his mother breaks through the artists “aestheticism” to convincing emotion (Figure 2). Art critic Thomas Lawson’s notion that Pop art has everything to do with nothing , or Warhol’s own magazine article, Crazy Golden Slippers , are examples of the type of solid sources that the author utilizes in his work. The majority of Ratcliff’s ideas originate elsewhere, however Ratcliff chose to use these many sources to support his own theories, drawing from established and accepted concepts to uphold his statements.
The prize of Andy Warhol lies in the inclusion of the author’s essay about the artist. Together with the effect of the many large prints, which comprise a majority of the body of the book, the essay enables the reader to learn about the artist and reflect on what may have been his intention for select works. To fully understand a work of art it is helpful to have some background information about the work and the artist. The author does a fantastic job of presenting this type information about the artist and his work. Warhol was obsessed with the idea of stardom, controversial works pertaining to popular culture and the use of images from every day life or symbols of such. Ratcliff, when compared to other writers who investigated Warhol, has an edge on the competition. Ratcliff not only describes the work itself, but also tells of the concept behind the art. Cantz’ The Last Supper is at best a glorified picture show of the artist’s work. The artist focuses on one series of paintings rather then on the entire portfolio. Unseen Warhol is an in depth biography of Andy Warhol, not much attention is granted to the actual pieces of art.
Ratcliff’s Andy Warhol fills the gap left by other writers. Ratcliff delivers a complete analysis of Warhol’s work by explaining the concepts and ideas surrounding the work in an intensive manner. Ratcliff’s thoughts on many of the pieces help to define the actual meaning or ideas of the work in a practical fashion. For example, the use of helium filled mylar, covered with foil in Silver Pillows (Figure 3) served as a way of making his paintings on the wall come to life and float away.
Drawing comparisons from the periods of Pre-Pop art, Pop art, and Post-Pop art, Ratcliff attempts to classify Warhol’s work in Andy Warhol. Commercial art including the title page for In The Bottom of My Garden, album jackets commissioned by RCA, book jackets for New Directions and Warhol’s famous I. Miller shoe advertisements became the focus of the Pre-Pop art period, also called the period of Consumerism by Warhol. Shifting to the Pop art period Warhol labels his art as “all surface with nothing beneath”. The transition to Pop culture from Consumerism may have been influenced by the emptiness in Warhol’s work. The artist seems to have completed his projects as if he was commissioned to do the work, painting without a sense of feeling. The idea that Warhol only looked at his paintings for their face value is evident in such works as the do-it-yourself images (Figure 4) and Campbell’s soup cans, which appear to be commercial works of art, however they were part of Andy’s private collection. Warhol’s Death and Disaster series brought about muddled reviews from the public. The artist may have been equating the empty electric chair (Figure 5) combined with car-crash images to highway death as a form of execution, or he may have been merely trying to portray these symbols of death as strong controversial statements, to raise interest in his work. Death is the common bond that moves us from the Pop era to the Post Pop era. On the third of June in 1968, Warhol was shot several times by Valerie Solinas, founder and sole member of S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men). Warhol was pronounced dead on the operating table, however, he was able to fully recover nearly two months later. During this period Andy said “everything is such a dream to me…I don’t know whether or not I’m really alive or whether I died.” This near death experience must have been Warhol’s ultimate feeling of emptiness. Emptiness seemed to be a characteristic that carried Warhol into the Post Pop era, as evident by the artist’s use of very pale (almost white) pigments to produce the faces of Paul Jenkins and Leo Castelli their respected portraits. Warhol also continues his Death and Disaster series during this period.
Warhol created his collective works in an iconic style, which Ratcliff points out throughout the text. The Campbell’s soup can, dollar signs, and Gold Marilyn express examples of Warhol,s personal iconography of everyday figures that he brought to his work. Ratcliff is unique in mentioning such tools as his blotted ink line or use of symbols to the work of Warhol.
Ratcliff does a super job of uniting the wealth of information pertaining to the accomplishments of Warhol, as well as thoroughly explaining monumental works in the artist’s portfolio. However, Ratcliff’s text Andy Warhol is deficient, relating to the fact that there is a lacking of information concerning the artist’s work in the film industry. The film industry is where Warhol gained his “star” status. This deficiency may be due to the fact that Andy’s film works were just in the beginning stages at the time of the texts printing. This is a minor issue considering the enormous amounts of other information regarding Andy Warhol’s art that is contained in Ratcliff’s book.
Warhol’s work is very unique; Andy broke all the rules and made new ones as he went along. Warhol is known as the father of Pop art. Ratcliff captures the essence of Warhol and his paintings, sketches, photography, and movies. Andy Warhol accomplishes the task of revealing some of the mystique behind the artist Andy Warhol as well as his work. Andy Warhol by Carter Ratcliff is a powerful source for anybody interested in the source of American Pop art.
Word Count: 1344