Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on March 8, 2009 with permission of the author and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author directly at Boca Raton Museum of Art through either this phone number or web address:
I Shot Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Indiana
by Wendy M. Blazier
A world of television commercials and billboards
The photographs in this exhibition and catalogue provide a rare glimpse into the working studios of five artists who shaped the direction of American art in the 1960s. They are the sort of images that are irresistible, and in many ways almost as fascinating as the artwork these artists produced. There is a lot here Andy Warhol at the Factory in the early 1960s surrounded by superstars and sycophants; a young Tom Wesselmann drawing for hours from the model for his Great American Nudes; Robert Indiana with early autobiographical American Dream word paintings; and the surreal cryptic associations in Rosenquist's imagery painted with flawless technique while balancing on a ladder before a billboard-sized canvas whose fragmented images are so large they are unrecognizable when viewed close up.
One thing is certain about images of most artists we're accustomed to seeing their artwork, not their photographs. Through these images by Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy we are invited to examine the artist, not just the artwork. The photographs reveal something of the private person, the opportunity to see their work process, and the moment of creation. Through these images, we step into the artist's world -- a world in which the overwhelming challenge is the image and the artwork.
Throughout history, paintings, and later photographs, have told us things about particular individuals during different times. They tell us about whole societies -- about culture, politics, mores and changing tastes. At its documentary core, photography is about freezing the moment, recording reality, and about remembrance. The photographs by Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy amplify our understanding of these artists' working methods and who these artists really were. They record the reality of artists painting reality -- Pop art's ironic "take" on reality -- a reality based on mid 20th-century materialism, mass production and the replicated image.
In 1963, when William John Kennedy was just starting his career in freelance commercial photography, he met Robert Indiana at a New York art gallery opening, and photographed him in his Coenties Slip studio in lower Manhattan. The next year, when Kennedy photographed Andy Warhol at the Factory, Warhol was already concentrating more on film than painting. His response to Kennedy's camera was that of an actor, compliantly posing for Kennedy, even accompanying the photographer to a field of black-eyed susans in Queens that Kennedy had spotted. With his newly completed unstretched Flowers paintings serving as a makeshift backdrop, Warhol posed waif-like wearing Kennedy's sweater because he left his black leather jacket at the Factory.
Bob Adelman's lifelong friendships with Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Tom Wesselmann enabled him to document, like few photographers have, the artist at work and his creative process. In 1980, Adelman spent thirty-five days and nights shooting Rosenquist while he painted the monumental Star Thief. Sequences of images capture the emotion, concentration, physicality and urgency with which Rosenquist paints. Just as compelling is Adelman's documentation of Roy Lichtenstein's work spanning thirty years, resulting in thousands of images and three books.
Neither Adelman nor Kennedy saw themselves as artists photographing other artists, yet their images communicate a recognition of and respect for the hard work and arduous processes involved in their creative achievements. The iconic status of these artists is both revered and subverted in their images. In many cases, a bit of the individual artist's personality is exposed.
For most people today, Pop art is identified with a handful of artists who came to prominence in the 1960s and who took their subject matter from everyday consumer products and popular media -- magazines, comics and advertisements -- making the banal bigger, better, and more colorful. To the average American, Pop art was a visual style that made the ordinary fun. What was not to like about Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans, his color-splashed Marilyns, or Lichtenstein's teenage romances lifted from comic books and the Sunday funnies? Pop Art was hot. It celebrated and seduced popular culture and our cultural heroes. By the mid-1960s, it seemed to everywhere in fashion, music, magazines, even television. Whaam! Blam! Pow! In retrospect, nothing in our embrace of Pop art's style can ever equal the daring work or the genius of the artists who were making those images then, when we first discovered Pop art.
The 1960s saw an unprecedented explosion of new art forms. It was a time when so many new ideas came tumbling out of the American art scene that one was inevitably going to capture the imagination of people everywhere both in the art world and out. Pop art was provocative. It seemed to represent the antithesis of what the public had come to recognize as "fine art." Working independently, Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Indiana were to change American art, and capture the attention of not only the American public, but the world.
To live in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century was to experience image saturation and the questioning of our belief in a world constantly improved by technological innovation. What Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy captured in these images begs us to recognize these artists, not just for inventing a realism with broad and enduring popular appeal, but also for their shared aesthetic which emerged independently and from different approaches. Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Indiana each responded to the pervasive barrage of mass-produced imagery around them in different ways. Each used processes employed by the media screen printing, stenciling, collaging of disparate images. Each used techniques and imagery which created the seemingly impersonal, neutral, detached qualities found in Pop art, rejecting art's elitist reputation and declaring their work "democratic," "populist," and "relevant to the real world."
That relevance has proved enduring. Just as the best photographs capture the temper of their times, these photographs reflect the spirit of their era. They reveal diversity, vitality, and humor in Pop art and its painters which remains as relevant today as it was more than a quarter-century ago.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928-1987
In the 1960s, Warhol helped shape the visual consciousness of a generation. He was the most controversial figure of 1960s Pop art, and arguably the most influential. After graduating from Carnegie Institute of Technology where he majored in pictorial design, Warhol moved to New York. Throughout the 1950s, he enjoyed a successful career as a commercial artist and illustrator for magazines including Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker. In the 1960s, Warhol began his appropriation of images from popular culture, creating paintings that remain icons of 20th-century art, such as the Campbell's Soup Cans, Brillo Boxes, Marilyns, and his series of Disasters including Car Crash, Plane Crash, Suicide and Electric Chair. He worked from media photographs, using commercial photo-silk-screening techniques to transfer mass-produced images on paper or canvas. He often employed this unorthodox approach to portraiture, appropriating photographs of celebrities from magazines and newspapers to emphasize an individual's public image rather than create his own artistic interpretation of a sitter's character, intensifying the impact of the image through unusual cropping, arbitrary color, skewed registration and repetition. In addition to painting, Warhol made several 16mm films which have become underground classics.
(above: Bob Adelman, Andy Warhol shopping at Gristede's supermarket on Second Avenue, executed 1964, printed 2008, archival inkjet print, 19 x 14 inches. Boca Raton Museum of Art Permanent Collection 2009.3. Gift of Bob Adelman.)
(above: William John Kennedy, Andy Warhol holding up acetate
proof for "Marilyn" silk screens, executed 1964, printed 2007,
black and white photograph, edition 2/75, 22 ? x 16 inches. Boca Raton Museum
of Art Permanent Collection 2008.17. Gift of William John Kennedy)
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio 1931-2004
Tom Wesselmann planned to become a cartoonist until his last year at the Cooper Union in New York, where he studied in the late 1950s. One of the first Pop artists, along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and Claes Oldenburg, Wesselmann experimented in 1959 with small, abstract collages, before adopting, in 1960, assemblages and environments using advertising images, commonplace household objects and highly-stylized female nudes. Interested in portraying American consumer culture, Wesselmann's work focused on the increasing commercialization of sexual imagery during the 1960s. The female nude as a sex object became the basis of Wesselmann's work, emphasizing breasts, mouth, and genitalia. When he developed his famous Great American Nude Series in 1961, he enlarged the scale of the works, using the billboard size and slick commercial style of advertising, pushing the works to be shocking, confrontational, idealized and exhibitionistic. His Bedroom Paintings assembled clichéd symbols of rendezvous: fruit, flowers, curtains, and a focus on the fragmented sexualized female body. Wesselmann continued to feature the female nude in every major series of paintings and sculpture throughout his career.
Born in New York City, New York 1923-1997
Roy Lichtenstein was a pioneer of the Pop art movement, best known for his oversized comic book-style images. Always a provocateur, Lichtenstein appropriated the subjects and commercial style of cartoons and advertising as his signature. His use of bold outlines and flat vivid colors simulated mechanical reproduction techniques, while his subjects and stylized forms humorously commented on the objectification and banality of American mass media and culture. At the same time, Lichtenstein's subject matter was always about art, whether popular comics, commercial advertising, or a reexamination of modernist artworks and art historical periods. He studied under Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in 1939-40, and completed an M.A. at Ohio State University, Columbus in 1949. Early on, he found inspiration in images of everyday life, which he would transform by giving uniformity to colors and shapes. Lichtenstein appropriated the appearance of commercial art to develop his signature style of bold black outlines and Benday dots, a streamlined shading pattern adapted from photoengraved reproductions.
Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota 1933-
In the 1950s, James Rosenquist worked as a commercial artist and sign painter, developing the montage-like arrangement of deliberately fragmented images from popular culture inconsistently scaled and enigmatically juxtaposed that was to characterize the monumental paintings of his mature style. In 1960, Rosenquist took a studio loft at 3-5 Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Facing the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, Coenties Slip had been part of Manhattan's early harbor. Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Jack Youngerman, Fred Mitchell, Lenore Tawney and Ann Wilson had studios there, and Rosenquist shared his space for several months with Chuck Hinman. It was in this supportive environment that he began his first works that incorporated commercial painting techniques with fragmented advertising and popular culture imagery. Rosenquist has suggested that the content of his work is not in the images he paints, but, rather that the relationship of the images is the subject matter, and the subject matter is what develops into content. The fragmented, manipulated consumer objects that crowd Rosenquist's works -- his images of tires, automobiles, fire, industry, glamour and war machinery -- are quintessential metaphoric expressions of American culture.
Born in New Castle, Indiana, 1928-
Although Robert Indiana came to prominence during the 1960s as a Pop artist, his concerns have always differed greatly from those of his contemporaries. National and cultural identity and the rhetoric of the American dream have shaped Indiana's imagery and its deceptively simple visual language. After receiving a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1953, he moved to New York City. He became part of an artist community that included Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Youngerman, and began to work with geometric styles, incorporating aspects of advertising and road signs, and the visual techniques of commercial advertising, such as flat, unmodulated color and oversized scale. His iconic style of simplified compositions using letters, words and numbers was arrived at early. Always fascinated by the highway signs he observed from his childhood, Indiana's "American Dream" series of paintings, in which stylized letters spelling TILT and JILT, JUKE and JACK, EAT and DIE comment on aspects of American life and American values, with imagery that has symbolic significance on more than one level. In 1973, the United States Postal Service used Indiana's "LOVE" painting for the first of their annual "Love" stamps. With a printing of 300 million, it became the most reproduced image in Pop art.
About photographer Bob Adelman
Bob Adelman (born in Brooklyn, New York 1930- ) initially studied to be a lawyer. Then, at Columbia, he earned a graduate degree in philosophy, majoring in aesthetics, and channeled his passion into photography. Adelman is an internationally recognized photojournalist, author, editor, teacher, book producer and social activist known for his historic coverage of the Civil Rights Movement. He is equally passionate about the visual arts.
Adelman has shot cover stories on social and political issues for countless magazines including Life, The New York Times Magazine, London's Sunday Times Magazine, New York, Harper's Magazine, People, Newsweek, TIME, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Paris Match. He took pictures of Andy Warhol for Esquire and Roy Lichtenstein for Life. His friendships with Lichtenstein, Rosenquist and Wesselmann enabled Adelman to photograph these artists working over a period of more than two decades.
He is the author or coauthor of thirty books, including three books on Lichtenstein: Roy Lichtenstein: Mural with Blue Brushstroke (1988), BRAD '61: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1993), and Roy Lichtenstein's ABC's (1999). He is a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts grantee. His photographs are in the collections of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art. His latest book is Mine Eyes Have Seen: Bearing Witness to the Struggle for Civil Rights (Time, Incorporated Home Entertainment, 2007). Bob Adelman lives in Miami Beach.
About photographer William John Kennedy
William John Kennedy (born in Glen Cove, New York 1930- ) photographed Robert Indiana at the artist's Coenties Slip studio in 1963, after meeting him at a gallery opening. He introduced Kennedy to Andy Warhol, after Warhol saw Kennedy's images of Indiana. Kennedy photographed Warhol at the Factory numerous times and on location beginning in 1964. His Warhol and Indiana images lay forgotten in storage at his New York City studio for four decades while Kennedy enjoyed success as a freelance commercial photographer for New York City advertising agencies.
Raised in Garden City, Long Island, Kennedy studied at Syracuse University, the School of the Visual Arts, and Pratt Institute. In the early 1950s, he worked for the American fashion photographer Clifford Coffin (1913-1972) at Vogue magazine, becoming studio manager for arguably the greatest of Vogue's "lost" fashion photographers.
As a top freelance commercial photographer, Kennedy's work appeared in print for both national and international clients, including Avon, GE, IBM, RJR Nabisco, American Express, and Xerox. His Warhol images were first printed from the original 1960s transparencies in 2004. William John Kennedy lives in Miami Beach.
About the author
Wendy M. Blazier is Senior Curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art Ms. Blazier holds a Masters degree in the History and Criticism of Art from Florida State University, Tallahassee, with a concentration in medieval Islamic Art. She completed her graduate thesis research in Islamic glass at the Islamic Art Museum and American University in Cairo, and at Harvard University's Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti, Settignano, Italy. She was Executive Director/Curator of The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida (1984-95), and an Adjunct Instructor at Florida Atlantic University (2000-2001) originating the art history course Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1800.
Ms. Blazier has been on staff of the Boca Raton Museum of Art since 1997. As Senior Curator, Ms. Blazier is responsible for the research, installation, and presentation of the Museum's changing exhibitions and permanent collections management.
As Senior Curator, Ms. Blazier has originated exhibitions at the Museum, many with accompanying publications, which have brought regional and national visibility to the Museum including: Get Real: Duane Hanson Sculpture (2003); American Modernism: Paintings from the Dr. and Mrs. Mark S. Kauffman Collection (2004) which traveled to the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Steve McCurry: Photographs of Asia (2004) which traveled to The Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; Purvis Young: Paintings From The Street (2006); Graham Flint: Portrait of America - Images from The Gigapxl Project (2006); Conflicting Currents: Aspects of American Art 1920-1950 (2007); American Impressionism: Works from the Bank of America Collection (2008), and I Shot Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Indiana: Photographs by Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy (2008).
About the exhibition
I Shot Warhol, Wesselmann, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Indiana: Photographs by Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy was held July 2 - September 7, 2008 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Many Pop artists' lives have been intimately entwined with
photography. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein,
James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana gained international attention as key
leaders of the Pop art movement, which championed the use of popular culture
and mass-produced objects as artistic subject matter. This exhibition presents
more than 60 images of these American artists, photographed at the height
of their careers by two photographers whose lives crossed paths with many
of the greatest artists of their day, Bob Adelman and William John Kennedy.
Resource Library editor's note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on March 8, 2009, with permission of the author and the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on March 6, 2009.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Kelli Bodle of the Boca Raton Museum of Art for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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