Saturday, April 25, 2009

Learn something new every day

But who knew that Warhol, the pioneer of Pop Art, drew more than 50 album covers over the span of his career — and not just for rock, but for classical music, opera and jazz?


But it’s an obscure fact that this trajectory began with album covers. When Warhol came to New York in 1949, fresh out of art school, the long-playing record had just recently hit the marketplace. Warhol called the big labels, offering to illustrate their covers.

He won an assignment right away, from Columbia Records, for an LP called “A Program of Mexican Music.” His drawings, of ancient drummers and dancers, were crude, but already they anticipated signature aspects of his later works.

He copied the figures from 16th-century Aztec sketches that he found in a Museum of Modern Art catalog, a forerunner of his tendency to make art from existing images, like the Marilyn Monroe photos and Campbell’s Soup cans. And he used a technique known as “blotted-line” drawing, a basic form of printmaking that foretold his fascination with silk-screens.

These early covers “have pizazz and elegance and a sneaky linearity, like Cocteau with a movement disorder,” said Wayne Koestenbaum, the author of a Warhol biography. “The blotted line gives a jumpy and nervous and emotionally unstable rhythm to the otherwise coherent line, like a dry drunk.”

Warhol’s cover for the jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell’s self-titled debut album on the Blue Note label, in 1956, was a drawing based on a photograph, as were many of Warhol’s later portraits. It was stylized, exaggerating the curves of Mr. Burrell’s guitar, the vibrations of its strings and the strumming of his fingers.

“Already you see the sense of movement, the low-angle perspective that’s very much associated with film or photographs,” Mr. Maréchal said. It’s a precedent, he added, for Warhol’s move a decade later into photographing pop stars and making movies.

The following year, on another Blue Note album cover, the saxophonist Johnny Griffin’s “Congregation,” Warhol — again working from a photo — painted fragments of colored flowers on Griffin’s shirt, which not only imbued the drawing with a splashy rhythm but also foreshadowed the giant flowers that Warhol would paint, over and over, in the following decade.
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