By Arthur Stampleman
The star attraction at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich is “Spring into Summer with Andy Warhol and Friends”. Here until September 3rd, the exhibition focuses on a narrow range of the work of this famous Pop artist.
The show features three important works in the Bruce collection, accompanied by an important four-part painted portrait, a fine pencil portrait, some of Warhol’s works related to nature, a paneled screen that appeared in a Bonwit Teller store when he was a commercial artist, and works by two of his friends.
Pop art’s most obvious feature is the use of kitschy imagery from mass culture, such as advertising and comic books. In this regard, when we think of Warhol, we think of his paintings of Campbell Soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, and Marilyn Monroe. Visitors will <not> see those in the exhibit, but they will see another aspect of this movement, mechanical means of reproduction.
Andy Warhola (1928-87) was born in Pittsburgh of Slovakian parents and was from a poor background complicated by poor health. He studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, graduating in 1949, after which he headed to New York City, where he developed a very successful career in commercial art as an illustrator for magazines, advertising, and department store window displays.
Around 1961, after much success as a commercial artist, he decided to be a gallery artist. One of the catalogs produced in that connection had a misprint of his name, omitting the “a” at the end – after that he was Warhol. Abstract Expressionism had been the art movement that put American art on the map, but Warhol was not interested in their approach. He was attracted to the Pop movement developed in England and pursued by such contemporary U.S. artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns. Together, they helped Pop replace Abstract Expressionism as one of the more popular art forms. In addition to his success as a fine artist, Warhol had some success as a movie director.
Most of the paintings in the exhibit reflect Warhol’s use of a mechanical means of reproduction – the silkscreen printmaking technique, together with photography. This involves printing by applying ink with a squeegee to force ink through selected parts of stretched mesh screens containing the cut image. The image on the mesh can be produced photographically, by cutting stencil, or by drawing directly on the mesh with block out material. A different mesh screen is used for each color in the image. Warhol would sometimes project a photograph on the mesh and trace lines on it to create the image, occasionally creating a broken line to enliven the surface. His colors are bright.
The first room in the gallery features images visitors will likely recognize: <Flowers>, for one. After seeing a magazine article demonstrating Kodak’s new home color-processing system, Warhol began work on his “Flowers” series. Visitors will see a 1964 color lithograph on paper, four 1965 silkscreens on linen (two black and white, two colored), and a 1974 collection of ten hand-colored watercolors on silkscreen.
Then come the portraits. These include a Warhol drawing of architect Philip Johnson, demonstrating Warhol’s skill as a draftsman, and two collections of small Polaroid photographs. Warhol often used Polaroids as the starting point for portraits, and did so for his friend Sachiko Goodman. The <Sachiko> portraits are a series of four 40 x 40 inch silkscreens on canvas in different colors, and two 40 x 32 silk screens on paper. In each case a color background was printed first, with the figure’s image following. The canvases have never been seen in public before.
The last room is devoted to nature. Though Warhol was not a naturalist, he frequently depicted nature and we are told he made significant donations to conservation causes. Featured here are his silkscreen series of 1983, <Endangered Species>, offering ten “animal portraits”, each with vibrant coloring and strong drawn lines superimposed over the basic photographed image. Finally, mimicking an exhibit Warhol organized by raiding a museum’s storerooms, the Bruce show includes specimens raided from its historic natural science collection.
The Bruce Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 5. For information, contact 203-869-0376 or www.brucemuseum.org.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), <Flowers (Hand-Colored), 1974. Watercolor dyes on paper. Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of Peter M. Brant, 86.48.01.05. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society, New York
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), <Sachiko>, 1977. Screenprint on paper, 40 x 32 in. Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation of Art, 85.30.01. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society, New York
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Bald Eagle, 1983, from ‘Endangered Species’ portfolio of 10 silkscreen prints on Lenox Museum Board. Edition of 150. 11 panels. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts New York. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society, New York