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Adman: Andy Warhol before pop art

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Soon after graduating having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Pictorial Design, a young chap who still went under his original name Andrew Warhola, moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist with the goal to become an illustrator. His work debuted via an illustration as part of an article about what was back in the day perceived to be the phenomenon of “career women” in Glamour magazine in September 1949, tagged with the headline “Success is a job in New York,” which in essence could have also be used for his arrival and work in the Big Apple: Warhol became one of the most successful illustrators of the 1950s, winning numerous awards and went on to produce hundreds of illustrations for print advertisements and elaborate window displays.

His unique, whimsical style of drawing belied its traced photographs and imagery. At times Warhol employed the quirky handwriting of his mother and incorporated it into his work, who was always credited as “Andy Warhol’s Mother.”The Art Gallery of NSW’s exhibition Adman: Warhol before Pop has the aforementioned era of Warhol as subject and shows that Warhol expertly understood and grasped the concept of branding and what is needed to go past the mere advertising of a product and go with how the product is meant to make the recipient feel instead.

After having hosted an elaborate Popart exhibition in 2015 and with Ai Weiwei vs Andy Warhol having been made subject of an exhibition of the National Gallery of Victoria, this exhibition documents how Warhol evolved to become the artist that many somehow think suddenly emerged fully formed out of the blue in the 1960s and sheds light on a widely unexamined era long before Warhol felt comfortable in the limelight and learned how to project himself and make its mechanism work in his favour. The exhibition includes prints highlighting the “blotted line” staccato technique he pioneered, naïve yet charming fluid line drawings (of ladies’ accessories and also early intimate portraits of young men), shop window display installations, record cover artworks and examples of Warhol’s art intended for gallery shows.

What is interesting to see is that Warhol seems to have always been driven by the dualism between his hands-on DIY approach with unique personal touch versus soulless mechanical reproductions – a dualism that would eventually lead to a democratization of what art was supposed to be at large, challenging the status quo and conventions while reinforcing their core values. A dualism that he ultimately took to the logical next level, which resulted in him becoming a commodity of sorts and a product himself.

Adman: Warhol before Pop is about the becoming of what the accomplished artist Warhol came to be. What pervades even his earliest emissions is the confidence, which is also mirrored in the fact that contrary to a lot of his artistic contemporaries, he was firmly in touch with himself and did not feel the need to use an alter ego or deny that he derived from the path trodden by the high horse of art and dabbled in the dark side of commercial art instead.

The Adman exhibition with more than 300 objects on display, many of which have never been publically displayed, sheds light on the formative years of Warhol, which became the foundation and fertile ground that would eventually spawn the Campbell Soup Cans and depictions of his beloved celebrities, before he became a trademarked name himself which impacted on American popular culture In a manner that can still be seen and felt today.

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