It’s indisputable that Andy Warhol is the most recognised artist since Picasso. Despite such critical and mainstream acclaim, he was quite the iconoclast. From Marilyns and Presleys, to coca cola bottles and Brillo Pads, his iconic, yet schlocky and transparent work helped steer the art world away from the haute bourgeoisie, and into a commodity culture. Art was now accessible to all. It was sexy, trashy, vulgar and the new ‘pop’. While his staggering body of work is notoriously completist in construction, a new exhibition from The Andy Warhol Foundation proves that the divergent behemoth was once a young, sketchy whippersnapper-
Nestled in at the beautiful woodland/beach setting of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, Andy Warhol: Early Drawings features 300 drawings from the late forties and early fifties. The previously unearthed collection is on loan from German gallery proprietor Daniel Blau, who bought out the rights to the pieces from the Andy Warhol Foundation. It sees the novice graphic design graduate-cum-commercial artist trying to find his footing, tracing Golden Era movie stars, to people sitting in coffee shops. Etched in graphite and black biro, they initially look like unfinished reworks of Egon Schiele portraits. Even if these doodles don’t have the vivid hues and deep saturation that would become synonymous with his later work, one can see how these furtive pieces as foreshadowing of what was to follow, most particularly with his fascination of celebrity culture.
Despite all this, there’s something remarkable refreshing about the exhibition. If the regular, ultra-garish Warhol experience makes you nauseous, there is something deeply mediative on display here. The tentative drawing not only suggests a cautious artist, but a distracted one. Most of the pieces are seemingly unfinished too, as if Warhol got bored sketching a tattooed woman’s leg and decided to move on to the next curious subject.
Separating the hanging artworks is a small screening room showcasing Bill Verity’s 1973 documentary Warhol. Like the works hanging outside, the film peels off the layers of the celebrity. Verity may be the worst interviewer of all time, yet he is still able to transform the icon known as ‘Warhol’ into the rather the humorous, softly spoken artist called Andy.
One of Warhol’s most hyperbolic statements was that ‘”art” was short for “artist”.’ Making a distinction between the two is pretty tricky with the visionary’s latter work, but not here. While these unarchived drawings may not be all that lewd or visually magnificent, their sense of texture and process mean that this exhibition tells us more about ‘Warhol’ than a tin of soup ever will.
Andy Warhol: Early Drawings is a touring exhibition. Keep glued to Daniel Blau’s website to find out where it will be stopping next.