name on the door: neck of the corpse

by Art Chantry (

there’s so much stuff written about andy warhol, that it seems impossible to pop any new perspective about him info into a small FB essay like this. but, not much is written about his early years as a designer/illustrator in nyc. yes, there are hundreds of books – but none of them really dig deeply into his design work (largely because they are written by art mavens and not designers). everything andy ever did seems to be so shadowed by his later ‘fine art’ career that we tend to think that his early work was some sort of ‘juvenalia’ and only of interest in passing. nothing could be further from the truth in my estimation. andy warhol stayed a designer/illustrator his entire career and simply sold the self-consciously created ‘artist’ identity like he would sell any other carefully designed identity program. us designers are in the business of creating fantasies to sell to a specific market. if that “market” happens to be a myopic art world (think of the money!), then speak to them in their own language. sell them the goods. it’s the american way of the hustle.

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this is a previously unpublished (so far as i know) record cover by andy warhol from back in the 1950’s, when he was still a freelance designer/illustrator. for some reason, there are many little freelance projects you see like this by andy that never make it into any of those massive tomes written about his work. i think it’s because it’s bad work, ya know what i mean? this isn’t a very good record cover design. it’s a spoken word LP of tennessee williams reading his own work for very low-budget record label (caedmon records LP 1005 – 4th printing, 1960). it features andy’s illustration style of the 1950’s, that ‘blotted line’ style that was so popular during that period. andy (along with so many others) was simply copycatting the high-end popular advertising work of guys like david stone martin, ben shauhan, even paul klee. there were scores of others doing the same thing (just go back into old design annuals and you can see hundreds of examples). the look became so oversaturated in the market of that time that it was virtually abandoned as exhausted for over 30 years (thus it looks fresh and ‘unique’ to us today). as to what that rainbow split fountain and that torn paper shape are supposed to represent, i’ve never been able to fathom.

the illustrated images are assorted character studies that may (or may not) have something to do with the themes of the work recited. that may be a portrait of williams hanging in from the right side (cut off halfway). but, the rest of the images seem to be taken randomly from andy’s sketchbooks (at least it appears that way). the lettering is most likely the work of nathan gluck (andy’s in-house graphic designer/employee for those ten years). many ‘historians’ have taken to crediting andy’s mother with that archaic script lettering style (she was given a major design award for her handwriting for andy’s design work). but, nathan assured me that andy’s mom may have done a couple of things before he was on the scene, but nathan copied her style (and individualized it) for the vast bulk of the ten years he spent there. once you know the difference between andy’s mom and nathan’s calligraphy stylings, it’s easy to spot the diff.

same goes for a great deal of andy’s ‘drawings, too – nathan actually drew much of them. that’s how studios work – the name on the door is the guy (the ‘salesman’, if you will) who drags in the work. the staff who works for him processes the work to his desires (thus the term ‘art direction’). then, it gets sold to the client as – well, the work of name on the door. so, andy had nathan gluck working for him and nathan did a huge percentage of the work that andy built his early career on. sound familiar? it’s the same ‘factory’ process that andy re-introduced to the art world in so major a way later on (and so famously). even though the studio system had been in effect since time immemorial (even before the renaissance), it had fallen out of favor in the ‘fine art’ world of the early 20th century where individual craftsmanship became popular and more highly valued. basically we began to buy artwork that was made BY THAT ARTIST. most of us still think that primitive way today (but we’re wrong. we actually don’t). andy warhol simply sidestepped into ‘fine art’ as his market instead of advertising. beyond that he changed very little else. by doing so, he simply ignored authorship and craft and went for market penetration. savvy? so simple, ya know? he was a commercial artist.

so, my simple point here is that, even though andy is considered (even by myself) to be the most important and THE pivotal figure of the last half of twentieth century art, he was actually a graphic designer faking it and making ‘fake art’ to sell to a fine art market (a position turned into a private joke by marcel duchamp in the first half of the same century.). thus, andy re-defined what ‘fine art’ actually was and helped to kill that world off. it’s still slowly dying. today’s ‘fine art world’ is sucking the juices out of the last of it’s own pretenses. andy sucked on the neck of the corpse of 20th century modernism dialog (the one that the abstract expressionists had famously murdered in the 1950’s). he really sucked it dry.

and got rich and famous. friggin’ genius design move.


AC: …i was fortunate enough to go to it with nathan gluck (he was an old buddy). it was hilarious going through with him – he pointed that “i did this one.” and “i did that one”. he marveled at some of the old eraser he had carved into rubber stamps (he did most all of the rubber stamping work) that were on display like ancient archeological artifacts under lass cases. he hadn’t seen that tuff in decades. after a while a big crowd was following us around and listen to him. eventually the curator of the show introduced himself and wanted ti interview nathan. we both laughed and laughed….

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