Andy Warhol’s childhood bedroom, Jackson Pollock’s barroom misadventures, and Salvador Dali’s royally weird product designs spring to candy-colored life in a new book series that pictures art world super heroes as eccentric graphic-novel characters.
Conceived and written by London-based art historian Catherine Ingram, This Is Warhol, This Is Dali, and This Is Pollock (Laurence King Publishing) alternate straight text with artworks and punchy illustrations to take a fresh look at the iconic artists. Ingram, an Oxford University PhD, explains, “These books are not an authoritarian art history where somebody’s telling you your dates. It’s about atmosphere, which is something I think illustration does so well.”
For the Warhol and Dali books, Ingram storyboarded each visual interlude with what she laughingly describes as her “horrible drawings,” then recruited Peepshow Collective illustrator Andrew Rae to produce the finished images. “He very good at taking the visuals to another level,” Ingram says. “I asked him for a thumbnail of the red sofa in Andy Warhol’s studio and of course he puts a naked man on the sofa.”
“Andrew was also really good with color” she says. To get across Warhol’s famously cool demeanor, “Andrew wanted something icy,” she says. “With Dali he goes into this really opulent purple and red washes, and puts in all this kind of Victoriana detail. I didn’t ask for that, but Andrew brought these things out after he read my text.”
Images are grounded in scrupulously researched details, right down to the posters shown on the wall of Warhol’s childhood bedroom. Even when This is Pollock illustrator Peter Ankle portrayed the abstract painter as a grizzly bear, the flight of fancy had a foundation in fact.
Ingram says, “One of Pollock’s friends described him as being like a big grizzly bear whenever he went drinking at the Cedar Tavern in Manhattan. So I said to Peter, ‘You can draw Jackson Pollock as a bear.’ He loved it. I wanted to show that freak show element where the busty lady comes in, the tourists all want something–Pollock might as well have been dressed up in a bear suit. That is what illustration allows, whereas if you used an archival photograph, it might glamorize the situation.”
“This is… ” will profile Matisse, Klimt, Gaugin, Francis Bacon, and 23 other artists over the next few months, with each book weighing in at a concise 80 pages. Ingram has instructed the other writers on the project to think visually and forgo academic jargon. She recalls, “I used to go to the Tate Museum and see some huge text book, like on Cezanne, that I’d lug home but didn’t read. Here, I wanted to create something that isn’t too long and isn’t a burden to read. If I suggest something to one of my artists that’s a crap idea or doesn’t work visually, they’ll tell me ‘This might be a good historical idea but it’s going to come across as a boring image.'”
In place of arcane theories, the books aim to capture “the vibe” behind some of the world’s most enduring artworks, Ingram says. “I tell all the writers in the series, don’t talk massively about art movements because essentially, I feel these books are not about complicated ideas. These stories are about what how these artists express what it means to be human.”
Check out the slide show for eye-popping moments featured in the illustrated lives of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollock.