Warhol’s early illustrated books show the artist’s personality before he was famous

30 October 2017

“This is pre-pop Warhol, before the Factory, when he was trying to make it in the world as a commercial artist,” explains Reuel Golden of his latest Warhol tome. Released by Taschen, Andy Warhol. Seven Illustrated Books 1952–1959 republishes a series of personal works by the artist made in his 20s, as a way to promote himself as an illustrator and designer. Reuel refers to them as a pre-Instagram kind of self-promotion, “the way he made his name,” and compares them to when you see an old TV advert starring a now-famous actor. “It’s a glimpse of a hero when they were learning their trade,” he says.

Warhol made the books, including Wild Raspberries, In the Bottom of My Garden and Love Is a Pink Cake and sent them to friends, clients and influencers, as calling cards. According to Reuel, the works show the artist’s personality and ambition from an early stage in his career. “You can see the things he became famous for, the strong graphic design and illustration element, the way he plays with classical art references and uses inspiration from everyday life. For example in 25 Cats Named Sam – everybody loves cats, but with Warhol, it’s always got a twist. It’s taking a child’s story and subverting it with innuendo. It’s a little bit saucy but subtle.”

Reuel says it also shows how commercially savvy Warhol was, and his sense of balance between art and commerce. Largely, though, he believes it goes against what many presume about the artist who brought advertising sensibilities to a art world. “I think people often associate Warhol with cynicism,” he says. “They think everything he did was ironic, or there was a slight calculation at play. But I think it shows innocence, that he was doing this out of joy, that he was compelled to draw and wanted to tell the world about his work.

“It also shows that, even in his experimental stages, his work was always accessible. He wasn’t being obscure or difficult for the sake of it – everything was made with the purpose to connect with the viewer.” Wild Raspberries, for example, is a spoof cookbook that Reuel calls “funny and engaging, and ahead of its time in parodying food pretensions”. 

Only two have been republished before, so this release is the first to bring all the original seven books back to life, and they are reproduced as authentically as possible, replicating the original size, paper and feel.

Andy Warhol. Seven Illustrated Books 1952–1959 is published by Taschen on 11 November.

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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