Category Archives: Andy Warhol biographies

Andy Warhol and Silkscreens.

I’ve now read three Warhol biographies–well actually four: The first was the 1989 version of Victor Bockris’s Warhol biography entitled “The Life and Death of Andy Warhol”. Next I borrowed Bob Colacello’s “Holy Terror – Andy Warhol Close Up” (1990) from my local library and soon realised I needed my own reference copy. The third was Wayne Koestenbaum’s 2003 “Andy Warhol”. But then I read a review somewhere that told me that Bockris had updated and expanded his 1989 bio in 2003 for the 75th anniversary of Warhol’s birth and simply called it “Warhol”. So I invested in a copy and reread Bockris’s account.

There is no doubt that Bockris’s biography is the most detailed story of Warhol’s life and artistic development and I recommend the 2003 edition as the most detailed. Colacello’s book also tries to describe Warhol’s background and early years but its main interest is in the period from 1970 to 1981 when Colacello was Andy’s employee and confidante and hustler–constantly being nagged to convince potential customers to order Warhol to paint their portrait.  Koestenbaum’s, is the shortest of the biographies, and includes a description of Warhol’s early life, but I get the impression that he’s read Bockris. Koestenbaum is a fan of Warhol’s films and most of his book extols the virtues of sitting for hours watching them or re-watching them until one is hypnotised.

Bockris tells how Andy Warhol was introduced to silkscreening. Coincidentally, the day before I read Bockris’s account, I saw a BBC documentary on Robert Rauchenberg. I knew next to nothing about this other founding member of American Pop Art and realised I have really missed out on seeing his art. The only Rauchenberg work I know is “Monogram”–the stuffed goat with a tyre round its middle standing on a collage floor. I had no idea he was working with silkscreens before Warhol got the idea. I didn’t know either that he was gay and had had a relationship with Jasper Johns…

Warhol moved house many times in New York; first living in cockroach-infested, cold-water flats in various locations. In 1952 he rented a fourth floor flat at 242 Lexington Avenue and in the spring his mother, Julia, moved in with him as his housekeeper. They slept on mattresses on the floor of the single bedroom. then Andy rented the flat on the second floor of the building, above Shirley’s Pin-Up Bar night club, leaving Julia in the fourth floor flat. Andy was using his living room as his studio with the TV on and his stereo blaring the day’s pop record on repeat. He had hired his first assistant, Vito Giallo in 1954, introduced by Nathan Gluck, who the following year, would take over as Andy’s assistant.

Well, back to Warhol and silkscreens. Warhol always wanted to be accepted as a proper artist, but was generally regarded as a commercial artist and was having difficulty getting his art shown in galleries. He had approached Leo Castelli , who represented both Rauchenberg and Johns but had been rejected. Fast forward to 1962. Andy’s Cambell’s Soup Can paintings had aroused a lot of media attention, even before they had been shown in a gallery (in fact they were first shown in Los Angeles in July 1962).

Elinor Ward, owner of the Stable Gallery, who represented, among others, Cy Twombly and Robert Indiana, wanted to meet Andy. She was taken to his apartment by the art critic Emile de Antonio. Ward offered Andy a show in her gallery on one condition–according to Bockris, she took out her lucky two dollar bill, and waving it in Andy’s face, said that she’d give him a show if he painted the bill. All Andy replied was “Wow!”

Andy had painted Coke bottles and Campbell’s soup cans and was looking for a way to be able to reproduce images faster than painting them. So in July, as Andy was trying to find a way to reproduce a hundred dollar bills, Nathan Gluck suggested he use silkscreens.  He immediately revisited some of his earlier subjects, Elvis, Troy Donahue, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood and made silkscreens with several images of his idols on each. Then, on 4th August 1962, the same day his Soup Can show closed in Los Angeles, Marilyn Monroe died. Andy immediately decided to paint a series of portraits of her, using Gene Korman’s photo of her from the film Niagara as his subject and over the following months he produced 23 portraits in various colour combinations. First he painted a coloured background, then he sketched an outline by projecting the image onto the background and painted in eye shadow and lipstick and then he silkscreened the black and white image onto the prepared canvas.

Thus was born Warhol’s modus operandi for the rest of his career. In the future, he would take a photograph (or he would find a stock photo) of the subject to be portraited. He would take the photo to a printer who would blow the photo up to the required size (usually 40 x 40 inches) and make an acetate from which a silkscreen was prepared and Andy–or rather some assistant, with or without his help–would make the final painting or print. In effect, Andy’s only contribution to the process was either taking or choosing the photograph used in the work.

Then–just as Rauchenberg, did–he would store the screens so that they could be re-used later. Andy did this in the eighties when he made a series of “reversal” paintings, re-using the Marilyn screens to make a series of negative portraits. Now, the fact that Andy kept old screens may shed light on another series of artworks, namely his 1963 “Giant Size $1.57 Each” record covers. He collaborated with Billy Klüver on producing the original edition of 75 signed an numbered copies on white record cover stock. There are four further series, each of 75 copies on spray painted record sleeves. The covers were sprayed in red, green, orange and yellow paint and then silkscreened with the “Giant Size” image. These were released for sale in 1971. It is my guess that it was probably Klüver’s idea to remake the series as he seems to have been responsible for selling at least some of them. It is thus completely possible that he–or Andy, or one of Andy’s assistants–made the second batch of covers using the original screen, particularly as these were often unsigned and unnumbered.

GiantSize_Screened_2
The five colour variations of the “Giant Size $1.57 Each” covers.

Andy Warhol – The Artist Who Died Twice.

In a recent post I investigated Andy Warhol’s medical history, concentrating on the story of the heroic Dr Guiseppe Rossi’s lifesaving treatment of the seriously wounded Andy Warhol and on his gallbladder disease and final operation and his unnecessary death in 1987. Since that post, I have been researching Andy’s medical history in more depth using several biographical sources. Finding Andy’s medical history was relatively easy. Using several sources, probably every illness can be identified. However, none of the sources I have thus far read have even begun to discuss Andy’s mental health.

Reading Victor Bockris’s and Bob Colacello’s biographies gives some insights, but neither tries to discuss Andy’s psychological health. There are other books that do look at aspects of Warhol’s mental health. Claudia Kalb discusses Andy’s hoarding while Brian Dillon examines his hypochondria.

Reading Bockris’s and Collacello’s biographies one gets the feeling that Andy couldn’t have been a particularly ‘nice’ person. The biographies show that Andy was born in Pittsburgh in relative poverty. He was his parents’ third son, but the couple had had a daughter, born in Miková, then in the Austro-Hungarian empire, but now in Slovakia, near the Polish border. The girl died after only six weeks. Ondrej, Andy’s father (after whom he was named) was a hard worker and often had to travel away to work. So the three boys would be brought up mainly by their mother, Julia. The family was poor and Julia worked cleaning houses and making toys out of tin cans which she sold for 25 cents. Ondrej was thrifty and saved money to be able to send his youngest son to college. He hadn’t been able to afford to send his two elder sons — they started working early in life. Ondrej had recurrent jaundice that improved after his gallbladder was removed in 1939. However, his liver later began to fail and he was housebound for the last year of his life, dying in 1942 at the age of 55, when his son Andrew was only 14 year old.

Julia’s English wasn’t good. The family lived in cramped conditions and had a poor diet. Soups were often what they ate. Andy’s childhood illnesses made him closer to his mother. Remember, she had already lost her first born child. At the age of two, Andy had swollen inflamed eyes, which necessitated bathing them with boric acid solution. When he was four he fell and broke his arm. He didn’t tell his mother and it was several months before it was noted that his arm was crooked and he went to a doctor. It was necessary to re-break his arm to straighten it. In 1936, when Andy was six, he caught scarlet fever and developed Sydenham’s chorea, tremor and muscular weakness. He was confined to bed for several weeks and when he had apparently recovered he had a relapse and was again sent back to bed. A further consequence of the illness was that it left his skin blotchy and it would be a problem for him for the rest of his life. He also had problems with pimples and is nose was lumpy and ugly. He became very concerned about his appearance. And in addition, in his twenties, he began losing his hair and took to wearing wigs.

Andy began using various cosmetics to hide his blotchy skin and pimples and visited dermatologists at first searching for a cure, but later for collagen injections to fill out his sunken cheeks, the result of his inadequate diet because of his gallbladder disease. In the mid 1950s he had a procedure to sandpaper down his bulbous and swollen nose, but the treatment provided only a temporary result and he felt his nose was worse afterwards. He took courses of tetracycline for his pimples.

Warhol always maintained that he did not take drugs, though his associates witnessed him dipping his finger in cocaine and smearing it on his gums while saying the he didn’t take it. However, as part of weight loss treatment he was prescribed Obetrol®, a mixture of four amphetamine preparations (a 10 mg capsule contained 2.5 mg methamphetamine saccharate, 2.5 mg methamphetamine hydrochloride, 2.5 mg racemic amphetamine sulphate, 2.5 mg dextroamphetamine sulphate, while the 20 mg capsule contained twice the amount of each constituent). Andy would continue to take these capsules twice daily for the rest of his life.

Andy’s mental health:
Andy Warhol was inordinately attached to his mother, taking her to live with him in New York. He was homosexual but had difficulty in forming longterm relationships. He was vain and deeply insecure, always seeking approbation and affirmation. He had a twofold aim in life, to be the most famous artist of the twentieth century and to become very rich. He lacked empathy, discarding friends and associates, often delegating uncomfortable decisions to others. He was stingy and underpaid his Factory employees. He even failed to pay the $3,000 bill from the surgeon who, in 1968, saved his life after Andy was shot and seriously wounded. The bill was found when one of WArhol’s Time Capsules was opened almost 30 years after Warhol’s death. Warhol also suffered periods of depression. In summary, he appears to have been a classic case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The DSM-V states:

The most important characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, seeking excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. These identifying features can result in a negative impact on an individual’s interpersonal affairs and life general. In most cases, on the exterior, these patients act with an air of right and control, dismissing others, and frequently showcasing condescending or denigrating attitudes. Nevertheless, internally, these patients battle with strong feelings of low self esteem issues and inadequacy. Even though the typical NPD patient may achieve great achievements, ultimately their functioning in society can be affected as these characteristics interfere with both personal and professional relationships. A large part of this is as result of the NPD patient being incapable of receiving disapproval or rebuff of any kind, in addition to the fact that the NPD patient typically exhibits lack of empathy and overall disrespect for others.

But this isn’t really enough. Andy was a hoarder, another anxiety-based condition. DSM-V states that the symptoms of the hoarding disorder are:

  1. Persistent difficulty or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.
  2. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and to distress associated with discarding them.
  3. The difficulty discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g. Family members, cleaners, authorities).
  4. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning including ( including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
  5. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (eg., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willis syndrome).
  6. The hoarding is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (eg. Obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in major neurocognitive disorder, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder).

The hoarder engages in excessive acquisition, buys items that are unnecessary and they do not have have space for. The hoarder may have good insight and realise that their hoarding is a problem or have poor insight and not recognise their behaviour is unhealthy.
According to (DSM-5) 80-90% of hoarders also engage in excessive shopping and buying unnecessary items.

This describes to a tee Warhol’s shopaholic behaviour. He threw nothing away. Quite apart from filling his house with about 100,000 items that, on his death, many were found not to have been removed from the packaging in which he took them home, he accumulated 610 boxes of “stuff” from his Factory studio that he called “Time Capsules”. These, now in the Warhol Museum, contain invoices, unread letters, used postage stamps, broken toys, gifts, records, decaying pizza slices, and much else.

I have a theory that many artists have a touch of obsessive compulsive related disorder (OCRD). But are OCRD and hoarding related? There are cardinal differences as explained by in a 2014 article:

The disorders in the OCRDs category have both similarities and differences. Although all the disorders in this category have intrusive thoughts, these obsessional thoughts manifest somewhat differently. Some disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are characterized by classic obsessions. Obsessions are repetitive, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts that trigger anxiety. In other disorders, such as body dismorphic disorder (BDD) and hoarding disorder, the intrusive thoughts could be more aptly described as a persistent and unrelenting preoccupation. In the case of BDD, this preoccupation focuses on personal appearance and attractiveness. In the case of hoarding disorder, the preoccupation centers around possessions.

The intrusive thoughts of people with hoarding disorder are associated with their preoccupation regarding their possessions; specifically, parting with, or losing these possessions. Unlike spontaneous OCD obsessions, intrusive hoarding thoughts and resultant anxiety are not usually activated until faced with the prospect of losing or parting with possessions.

Andy’s preoccupation with his appearance–he always considered himself ugly–could perhaps be construed as a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder, BDD.

By all accounts Andy was not loved, more tolerated. There were, however, many sycophantic hangers on who wanted to share Warhol’s fame. His employees at the Factory called him “scrooge” because of his meanness. But Warhol was inordinately generous to people he wanted to impress, giving paintings and prints to potential clients or advertisers.

Over and above these personality disorders, Andy had several phobias. He was afraid of the dark from childhood. He was inordinately afraid if hospitals and doctors, despite having his own personal physician and regularly visiting dermatologists. It is unclear exactly when this fear of hospitals began; it could have been in his teens when his mother, Julia, was operated on for bowel cancer and ended up with a colostomy. Colacello states that it started n earnest after an operation in March 1969 to remove part of a bullet that remained in his body after he was shot by Valerie Solanas on June 3rd 1968. This inordinate fear was to cause him to delay having his gallbladder removed until his physical condition was poor. Unsurprisingly, Warhol became more paranoid after he was shot. Andy professed to a fear of flying. Early in his career choosing to cross America by car rather than fly. However, he seems to have overcome this later in his lie as he journeyed round the world to exhibitions.

I think we can conclude that Andy Warhol was a tortured soul. Biographical descriptions lead me to conclude that he probably suffered from at least three psychological disorders: narcissistic personality disorder, hoarding disorder and possible body dysmorphic disorder. However, his psychological deficiencies did not prevent him from producing amazing art that still influences twenty-first century art.

Sources:
Bockris, V. The Life and Death of Andy Warhol. 1989
Colacello, B. Holy Terror–Andy Warhol Close Up. HarperCollins, 1990.
Kolb, C. Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder- National Geographic, 2016.
Dillon, B. Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives. Penguin Ireland, 2009.

 

 

 

Andy Warhol – Two Biographies.

As readers of this blog may have read, I started researching the circumstances of Andy Warhol’s death. I planned to write a scientific article aimed at publication in a reputable medical journal and and had, basically, finished writing the article.

However, in my studies I found references to Andy Warhol having been admitted to hospital in 1973 for “kidney stones”. I wanted to find out more about this and and an Internet search turned up a reference to Bob Colacello’s 1990 book “Holy Terror-Andy Warhol Close Up”. For those who may not recognise Colacello’s name, he was headhunted by Warhol in 1970 and made editor of Warhol’s Inter/WIEW (the original spelling of what became Interview magazine). He was a close associate of Warhol’s from then on, until Warhol died. So I had to get hold of Colacello’s book to find the reference.

Holy Terror
The cover of Bob Colacello’s “Holy Terror-Andy Warhol Close Up”.

While doing so, I saw an advert for Victor Bockris’s 1989 Warhol biography “The Life and Death of Andy Warhol”. Well, well; I thought I had better read this to see if it shed more light on the circumstances leading up to and the consequences of Warhol’s untimely death.

Life & Death of AW
Victor Bockris’s “The Life and Death of Andy Warhol”.

Both these books were published relatively soon after Warhol’s death and included interviews with his many associates. As soon as I started to read Bockris’s fantastically well researched book, I realised there was a lot more medical history that I had hitherto included in my medical paper. It really was a case of throwing out my original manuscript and starting again.

The Warhola family were immigrants to the US from Miková in Slovakia. Andy’s father, Andrej (1886 – 1942), had married Julia Justina Zavacá (1892-1972) in 1909 (and she gave birth to a daughter in 1914, who died just six months old). Andrej emigrated to Pittsburgh at about that time and could not afford to send for Julia until 1921. As Bockris points out, the Warhola family lived in pitiful conditions in prewar Pittsburgh. Andrej worked hard, travelling far and wide after work as was often away from Pittsburgh for weeks or months. Despite his travels, he and Julia had three sons, Paul (1922 – 2014), John (1925 – 2010) and Andrew (1928 – 1987). Andrej died when Andrew was just 13.

The younger Andrew was a sickly child. He had swollen eyes when he was 2 years old and when he was four he fell on streetcar tracks and broke his right arm–but it wasn’t treated until several months later! At six he caught scarlet fever and developed rheumatic fever and chorea (St. Vitus’s Dance”) afterwards. He was initially kept in bed for four weeks and was thought to have got over it but when he was about to return to school he didn’t want to go and his legs gave out under him. It wasn’t appreciated that he had a relapse and he was back in bed for a further four weeks, during which time Julia encouraged him to draw.

Andrej was a thrifty man and saved as much as he could. However, the family could not afford to educate their two older sons, but when Andrej died he made Julia promise that his savings should be used to send Andrew through college. Julia fulfilled this promise.

Andy stated that he had had three nervous breakdowns as a child. It is impossible to decide exactly what he meant by “nervous breakdowns, but he remained an anxious child with several phobias. Most prominent among these was his fear of hospitals that probably developed when his mother was operated on for colon cancer in 1944, when Andy was 16, and forced to have a colostomy. And later, his fear of flying. He was also afraid of the dark, and this would allow him to work (or party) into the early hours. In addition, he developed strange dietary habits, living mainly on candy. And even as an adult, he would refuse to eat ordinary food. Andy began to lose hair relatively early and started to wear wigs from about the age of 25. He also felt he was ugly and that his nose was too bulbous and, in 1956, he had a nose job (which he felt made matters worse). He complained that his skin was blotch and he had rashes round his genitals, which was said to make him sky of showing himself nude and thus affected his relationships.

As Bob Colacello revealed, Andy’s “kidney stones” were, in fact, gallstones–the first time he developed symptoms of the disease that would force him to submit to an operation fourteen years later. Warhol was always careful t avoid fatty foods or those with cream in case this gallbladder problems would recur.

Towards the end of 1986 he was in almost constant abdominal pain. In January 1987 he went to Milan for the opening of his Last Supper paintings exhibition. He was really unwell during the trip and on his return contacted his dermatologist (who was treating him with fillers) on St. Valentines’ day to ask for painkillers. She refused to give him stronger tablets and convinced him to get an ultrasound scan, which confirmed that his gallbladder was enlarged and that he needed an operation. He saw Dr Bjorn Thorbjarnarson, a well-renown surgeon who had removed the Shah of Persia’s gallbladder, on 17th February. The same day, despite his pain, he took part in a celebrity fashion show and was photographed together with Miles Davis looking rather haggard.

Andy didn’t want an operation and said that he would make Dr Thorbjarnarson rich if he didn’t operate. However, Andy was admitted to the New York Hospital on 20th February for operation the following day.

That is Andy Warhol’s somewhat expanded medical history. Blake Gopnik is said to be writing yet another Warhol biography that promises to me more racy, delving deeper into Warhol’s sex life to dispel the image of Warhol’s celibacy. Stay around for further reports.