Warhol By Ratcliff


The life and work of Andy Warhol has inspired many writers to tell of the artist’s secrets in published writings. However, Carter Ratcliff accomplishes this feat in a unique fashion, profiling Warhol’s work in Andy Warhol. A must-read for anybody interested in the origins of American Pop art, Ratcliff’s book touches on all aspects of Warhol’s work.
Segmented chronologically, Ratcliff explains the influence and significance of select paintings, as well as sections devoted to Warhol’s sketches, photographs, movies and notes on the techniques used by the artist. This format, combined with the inclusion of nearly 100 prints of paintings, is effective because a natural theme flows through the chronological ordering of the monograph. Some of the influences are obvious in Warhol’s work. However, the cumulative effect of the artist’s attempts is more easily understood through the chronological ordering of the pieces. The chronological ordering helps the reader understand what social or personal beliefs or conflicts the artist was dealing with pertaining to the given time period. For example, Warhol produced many pieces with singular subject matter displayed multiple times as in his Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and dollar signs, possibly just comforting symbols to Warhol as well as the American Pop Culture. Also, Ratcliff leads the reader on a journey through the details, effects and consequences of the work. The author also describes similarities in select Warhol pieces. The development of Warhol as an artist is easily understood using this format, as his work transforms from the playful character of Saturday’s Popeye
(Figure 1) to the realism of Skull or the political power of the Hammer and Sickle series.
Andy Warhol takes a convincing and comprehensive look at the pursuits of the artist, basing observations on a plethora of sources. The information cited in each section is a cumulation of Ratcliff’s investigation, interviews with Warhol and references to the writings of other critics. Basing his survey largely in the ideas of others, Ratcliff discovers little original information. Referring to such credible contacts as Robert Rosenblume’s description of Julia Warhola [1], saying that Warhol’s portrait of his mother breaks through the artists “aestheticism” to convincing emotion (Figure 2). Art critic Thomas Lawson’s notion that Pop art has everything to do with nothing [2], or Warhol’s own magazine article, Crazy Golden Slippers [3], are examples of the type of solid sources that the author utilizes in his work. The majority of Ratcliff’s ideas originate elsewhere, however Ratcliff chose to use these many sources to support his own theories, drawing from established and accepted concepts to uphold his statements.
The prize of Andy Warhol lies in the inclusion of the author’s essay about the artist. Together with the effect of the many large prints, which comprise a majority of the body of the book, the essay enables the reader to learn about the artist and reflect on what may have been his intention for select works. To fully understand a work of art it is helpful to have some background information about the work and the artist. The author does a fantastic job of presenting this type information about the artist and his work. Warhol was obsessed with the idea of stardom, controversial works pertaining to popular culture and the use of images from every day life or symbols of such. Ratcliff, when compared to other writers who investigated Warhol, has an edge on the competition. Ratcliff not only describes the work itself, but also tells of the concept behind the art. Cantz’ The Last Supper is at best a glorified picture show of the artist’s work. The artist focuses on one series of paintings rather then on the entire portfolio.[4] Unseen Warhol is an in depth biography of Andy Warhol, not much attention is granted to the actual pieces of art.[5]
Ratcliff’s Andy Warhol fills the gap left by other writers. Ratcliff delivers a complete analysis of Warhol’s work by explaining the concepts and ideas surrounding the work in an intensive manner. Ratcliff’s thoughts on many of the pieces help to define the actual meaning or ideas of the work in a practical fashion. For example, the use of helium filled mylar, covered with foil in Silver Pillows (Figure 3) served as a way