Andy Warhol’s Advertising Career

Exhibit highlights artist's output of print ads, window displays and record album covers

The bad news is that unless you’re planning a trip to Australia in the next few months, the event billed as ‘the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol’s early career in more than 25 years’ is for the present moment out of geographical reach. The good news, of course, is that we can all still read about it.

Adman: Warhol Before Pop opens Feb. 25 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney and will run through May 28. The show features more than 300 items, many on public display for the first time, and was put together by the gallery in partnership with The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

As The Australian’s arts correspondent Matthew Westwood very effectively previews, the exhibit covers Warhol’s earliest days in New York. After arriving in 1949 and having dropped the “A” that ended his last name, Warhol worked for a decade as a commercial illustrator:

More than anything in the 1950s, Warhol was best known for his pictures of shoes. The [early] job for Glamour magazine asked him to produce a drawing of women’s shoes arrayed on a ladder. [His friend Philip] Pearlstein has recalled that Warhol stayed up all night working on the project, and worried that he didn’t know how to draw a shoe in perspective.

Warhol would go on to produce more than 300 illustrations for I. Miller shoes, whose ads appeared in The New York Times almost every Sunday. And not only shoes: Warhol’s repertoire included angels and cupids, butterflies and flowers–the pictures sometimes accompanied by his mother’s cursive handwriting. Motifs that would become familiar in his Factory years–the Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles–started to appear during this period.

At a time when Madison Avenue was embracing photography, Warhol stuck with hand-drawn illustrations and the time-consuming process known as the blotted line. In the article, Warhol’s nephew Donald Warhola provides a number of great insights about this period, including the idea that his uncle understood the concept of branding long before that word became part of the everyday lexicon.

In 2018, Warhol: Before Pop will show at the Warhol Museum.