Andy and Oz: Parallel Visions
A collaboration between the National Gallery of Australia
and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, USA.
11 October until 30 December 2007
God save Oz
Martin Sharp 'Still life: (Marilyn)' 1973 synthetic polymer paint on canvas Collection of the National Gallery of Australia more detail
It was just the spirit of the time. I could do those Collages because the original images had radiated so far out into the mass culture, that the original colours weren’t there anymore, the scale wasn’t there anymore, they’d lost their preciousness … If you flick quickly through Sir Herbert Read’s book on the history of art, that goes from the Lascaux Caves to Jackson Pollock, the image vanishes into a flux. But then you can’t keep the images out of art, so Pop art had to come.
The painting that Sharp did with artist Tim Lewis, Still life: Marilyn 1973, pays homage to both Warhol and Marilyn Monroe. In the months that followed Monroe’s death in August 1962, Warhol made more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, combining two of his consistent preoccupations: death and the cult of celebrity. Sharp initially made a collage of the still life by pasting Warhol’s image of Monroe from a Tate Gallery poster onto a print of the much-reproduced Sunflowers by Van Gogh.
This collage was only possible to me at the time because Marilyn’s green eyeshadow was the same green as the background of the sunflowers. There was also an echo of Marilyn’s life and Vincent’s. They were both great artists, they died at a similar age and one could describe Marilyn as a sunflower. I called the painting Still life, because though they had left this world they were still alive in their art and influence …2
Although the painting Still life: Marilyn was done later than the collage, the idea had come about while Sharp was living in London. Like many young Australian artists, he was drawn to the the swinging sixties in London where he lived from 1967 to 1969. During this time, he befriended Eric Clapton, the rock guitarist with the band Cream. Sharp met Clapton in the Speakeasy Club in London in 1967, having just written a poem which he thought would make a good song. The scribbled lyrics which he handed to Clapton on a serviette became the hit song ‘Tales of brave Ulysses’ on Cream’s album Disraeli Gears.
Like Warhol, Sharp designed album covers including the cover for Disraeli Gears as well as the later Wheels of fire which was awarded the New York Art Directors Prize for Best Album Design in 1969.
As a contributor to the radical underground magazine Oz both in Sydney and in London, Sharp was caught up in two sensational court cases involving the magazine, first in Australia and then the United Kingdom. Some of the most brilliant minds of the day came to the defence of Oz magazine, championing anti-censorship and free speech. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were among the supporters marching in a demonstration at the time of the trial. They also wrote the lyrics for the album God save Oz (released in 1971 and performed by Bill Elliot and the short-lived Elastic Oz Band). One of the most striking covers of Oz magazine was from the poster Sharp designed for Bob Dylan, Mister Tambourine Man 1968. Printed on shiny foil paper, the large scale of Dylan’s face and distinctive halo of hair floats above the small profile view of the singer-songwriter below. It is like a projection of the performer writ large – his state of mind and feeling for sound given hallucinatory shape in the circles that overlap and recur one within the other in a seemingly infinite pattern. This is reinforced by the lettering in his ubiquitous dark sunglasses inscribed in one lens with the quotation ‘BLOWIN IN THE MIND’. Andy Warhol remarked that he liked the way Dylan had created ‘a brilliant new style’ as well as his courage to change direction from folk to rock: ‘He didn’t spend his career doing homage to the past, he had to do things his own way, and that was just what I respected.’3
Sharp experienced aspects of the same milieu as Warhol, attending concerts by the likes of Dylan and Hendrix and going to after-event parties. Sharp painted a dazzling rendition of Hendrix – the lines bursting with a palpable energy from Hendrix’s electric guitar and radiating out into space (see inside back cover). It was in the 1960s that the Rolling Stones also made an impact. As Warhol recalled:
This was the summer of ‘Satisfaction’ – the Stones were coming out of every doorway, window, closet, and car. It was exciting to hear pop music sounding so mechanical, you could tell every song by sound now, not melody: I mean, you knew it was ‘Satisfaction’ before the first fraction of the first note finished.4
Richard Larter 'Sliding easy' 1970 Painting, acrylic on hardboard Collection of the National Gallery of Australia enlarge
You can almost hear Mick Jagger belting out lyrics to ‘Satisfaction’ in Richard Larter’s portraits of him painted in Cream filling; phew, finger ring. There are multiple frames in the painting; some like film stills, some like cut-outs from underground comics and magazines, brought together in a painted collage that reflects the energy of an era. Elvis, Nietzsche, a Russian Samidzat heroine, an ape, a screaming man and a beautiful model all occupy the same space. Larter started adopting images from popular culture in his art before migrating to Australia in 1962, inspired by artists working in Britain at the time such as Eduardo Paolozzi and John Bratby and also by youth culture that has continued to fascinate him.
He wrote of the early 1960s:
A whole new youth oriented culture was permeating London, it was in the main rebellious and the attitude to middle class mores was dismissive … I drew my images from popular culture – Elvis Presley, Sophia Loren, Rock ’n Rollers of both sexes, motorcycles and their riders, the young patrons of coffee shops with Gaggia machines, dance halls, rock ’n roll and skiffle venues.5
A very literate artist, Larter also noted that around the time he moved from Britain to Australia, he and his wife Pat swapped their copies of James Joyce for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. While he has long been interested in the relationship between figuration and abstraction – noting that his figures are another element, like signs – Larter recognised, like Warhol, that popular culture provided ways of engaging with people.
My signs (figures) were not just there to be recognised but to get the viewer’s attention, thus to get the viewer thinking and participating in my work. This idea came from psychology and the marketing techniques of the period. I was well aware that sexuality and also fame were excellent attention getters, as was anything different, unexpected or startling.6
By the start of the 1970s Larter was inspired by Warhol’s work in relation to photography and film and painted his portrait into Frame 1971 (page 23), alongside a posed female model. Both figures are painted in monochromes of black and blue, the latter perhaps alluding to Warhol’s Blue movie. Warhol’s face is only partly in frame; the play between the picture frame and film frame accentuated in the word repeated below and cascading out of the painting. In another painting of the period, Sliding easy, a prominent Jackie Kennedy look-alike is juxtaposed with repeated screenprinted images of the American President Lyndon B Johnson whose advocacy of the Vietnam War riled the artist. Although outspoken in his views, Larter is conscious of a complexity in Warhol’s art that, in his view, is undiminished by a lack of commentary on the artist’s part.
I think Warhol is terrific. He managed to have his cake and eat it. Art is really about visual communication between the artist and the viewer and he understood that. He realised that it was best not to explain things too much. I mean the electric chairs and other images like the guy getting his trousers ripped [Birmingham race riot 1964] were very serious but he didn’t get much flak because of his fey attitude … He recognised the work should speak for itself. His commercial art background taught him that art is about communication. It needs to make its own impact. He never lost that. When he did repeated images of well-known figures like Mao and Marilyn the reach of his work was huge.7
In some of Warhol’s best known Pop works of the 1960s – of Mao and Marilyn, Campbell’s soup cans, Brillo boxes and Kellogg’s cereal packets – repeated images seem to subliminally echo the enormity of the physical landscape and the reach of the mass media, especially television. In both America and Australia through the 1950s, when domestic appliances and all manner of consumer products were transforming lives, there was also a natural allegiance between mass communication and the intimate, interior spaces of domestic living rooms, laundries and kitchens. Within the domestic interior and the supposed boredom of suburbia, young would-be artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rooney discovered worlds within worlds. Both shared a background in design as commercial artists. For both, there was a deliberate denial of the autobiographical self (in part a reaction against the self-expressionists who preceded them). Yet both, to some extent, acknowledged the significance of the home base with all its paraphernalia and slippages of memory. Both understood that ‘the secret life of the suburbs’ was fertile ground for re-thinking what art could be.
There is a photo of Andy Warhol with his mother Julia Warhola in the house they shared in New York with a box of Kellogg’s cereal on the kitchen table. Julia Warhola is perhaps not the first person that one may think of as a collaborator with Andy Warhol. Yet, from the 1950s when she contributed the decorative writing on his commercial illustrations and contributed to her son’s book 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy to the film Warhol made with her in 1966 called Mrs Warhol, she was just that. Samuel Beckett understood the potency of the everyday was not in its extraordinariness but in its ordinariness. As Warhol put it, ‘I just happen to like ordinary things. When I paint them, I don’t try to make them extraordinary. I just try to paint them ordinary-ordinary.’8
Robert Rooney 'Kind-hearted kitchen-garden II' 1967 synthetic polymer paint on canvas Collection of the National Gallery of Australia Courtesy of Tolarno Galleries enlarge
Robert Rooney would agree with this sentiment. Like Warhol, he works subversively with memory, enlarging aspects of home and the everyday. He became aware
of Warhol when he was a student at the Swinburne Technical College between 1954 and 1957: ‘In the Third and Fourth year we were required to specialise, and I chose Graphic Design and Illustration rather than Painting, even though my ambition was to become an artist.’ He continues:
Ben Shahn and pre-Pop Andy Warhol were familiar to me, as their work was often featured in magazines such as Gebrauchgrafik, Graphis and American Art Director’s Annual. What attracted me to Warhol’s work was his drawing method, his blotted line, which I saw as being related to the ‘hooked’ line in Shahn’s drawings.
Andy Warhol the Pop Artist was still a few years off, though I did see several exhibition reviews in Art News. I remember one in particular, of a pre-Pop group show, which mentioned Andy Warhol’s drawing of a Coca-Cola bottle with a rose in it … Around 1958 I made a screenprint of two teenage boys, one holding a Coca-Cola bottle. (It’s now in the Coca-Cola Museum).
Something I inherited from illustration – in common with Ben Shahn and Andy Warhol – was the use of existing images. Life magazine and newspaper photographs (the wrecked cars) were common sources, as well as photos I had taken with a Box Brownie. I continued to work in this way, even in my hard-edge serial/cereal abstractions on the back of Kellogg’s boxes.9
Around this time Rooney began to work in bookshops, delighting in the absurd topics of second-hand books from Swedish club swinging, to exercising in the bath, to the walking stick method of self-defence. Such finds became part of his ‘Spon’ collection, the term drawn from the ‘Goon Show’ – a term of praise for spontaneous absurdity.10 Packaged, mass-produced goods were often source materials, such as bird masks printed on the backs of Kellogg’s cereal boxes that provided stencils for seemingly abstract works. While his Kind-hearted kitchen-garden paintings have an undeniable abstract rigour, the modernist grid is given an absurdist twist in his use of the tops of scalloped cake-box lids applied as stencils to create the curvilinear rhythmic lines and patterns.
Unexpected sources such as books of knitting patterns also fed into the Spon collection and later into series of works such as the Superknit paintings. In works such as Superknit 1970, the repeated pattern is both real and abstract, uniform and absurd, defined and seemingly infinite – not dissimilar to Warhol’s deadpan humour in the repeated cow motif designs for wallpaper. Looking back to the late 1960s, Rooney notes:
Andy Warhol was one of the artists featured in the exhibition Serial imagery at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1968. Looking through the catalogue again, I can see why it was important to me. Notions of repetition, banality and boredom were very much in the air at the time. However, Andy Warhol was just one of many influences, and an interest in Erik Satie, Gertrude Stein and John Cage had already set me in a direction that resulted in the Kind-Hearted Kitchen-Garden and Slippery-Seal series of 1967–8…11
In 1967 Warhol’s work was included in the landmark exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Two decades of American painting, from the Museum of Modern Art. The following year another major exhibition, The Field, was held at the same institution that included Rooney’s Kind-hearted kitchen-garden IV.
Rooney began his camouflage paintings such as Against the sun in 1985, the year before Warhol began his Camouflage works. Like Warhol, Rooney had returned to painting after a break from the medium. For both artists, the use of camouflage did not reflect military colours but instead were painted in vibrant, even garish hues. On the one hand the similarities are uncanny. On the other, it is perhaps not surprising that these two artists who were interested in maintaining a sense of personal distance – playing with shifts between abstraction and figuration, reality and imagination – would have been drawn to a method of concealment such as camouflage.
Australian Painting and Sculpture after 1920
1 Martin Sharp, The everlasting world of Martin Sharp: paintings from 1948 to today, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, The University of New South Wales, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, p. 14
2 Martin Sharp, The everlasting world of Martin Sharp: paintings from 1948 to today, p. 14
3 Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol sixties, Harcourt Books, p. 135
4 Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol sixties, p. 146
5 Richard Larter, Incondite incantations, compilation of notes and lectures, Canberra, undated, p. 6, 7
6 Richard Larter, Incondite incantations, p. 7
7 Richard Larter, interview with Deborah Hart, 14 August 2007
8 See Andy Warhol Giant Size, Phaidon, London and New York, 2006, p. 091
9 Robert Rooney: notes on Warhol, correspondence with Deborah Hart, 28 August 2007
10 Daniel Thomas, Art and Australia, volume 34, number 4, 1997, p. 478.
11 Robert Rooney: notes on Warhol, correspondence with Deborah Hart, 28 August 2007
This exhibition is proudly supported by the National Gallery of Australia Council Exhibitions Fund