538 – Clothing/Persona/Rockwell and Warhol

Clothing/Persona/Rockwell and Warhol

Andy Warhol’s Beatle Boots 1965
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA
Founding Collection, The Andy Warhol Foundation

Audio commentary by Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator of Norman Rockwell Museum and
Jesse Kowalski, Curator of Exhibitions of Norman Rockwell Museum

Speaker 1: One of the, I think, fun and interesting things we have in the exhibition are some clothing that both artists wore. Andy Warhol had this great ability to reinvent himself. Some of the ways in which he did that was through the use of clothing and wigs. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that?

Speaker 2: Sure. As a child, Warhol did suffer from rheumatic fever. Because of that, he developed very splotchy skin. His nose became bulbous and he developed early hair loss, which he was always very conscious of. In the exhibit, we have some examples of Warhol, on his passport photograph, drawing in himself with a wig and different nose. In the 1950s, as an ad man, he developed his own particular look. In the 1960s, as he became a pop artist, he developed another look. He was always trying to become the artist that the public wanted to see, I guess.

In the 1960s, he started to dress more as what you would think an oddball New York artist would dress like. In this case, we have some of the Beatle boots that he wore. He also wore a striped shirt and blue jeans. Also, he would wear a wig. In the 1960s, it was a silver wig. He would spray paint it silver to match the silver factory. Then in the 1970s, he kind of reinvented himself as a friend to celebrities, with a more modest way of dressing, with a wig that was a little more subdued, glasses that were a little less out there. Then in the 1980s, he developed another persona of the club-goer. He would wear a black jacket, with a wig that was a little more wild, and glasses that were more of the time.

Each decade, he seemed to reinvent himself. Warhol developed this persona that he felt would sell the artwork. It was in direct contrast to how he was born, as a poor child in Pittsburgh, to reinvent himself as this celebrity artist. How did Rockwell’s persona come about?

Speaker 1: Well, interestingly, Rockwell had a little bit of the opposite persona as well, because he was actually a very worldly, well-educated man. He knew a lot about art. He traveled the world, starting in the 1920s, and he was very cognizant of world events. Yet his persona developed as a kind of a down-home, approachable, friendly artist. He was those things. Many people talk about knowing him, and how humble he was, and how easy he was to talk to, of course, very devoted to his work, and very dedicated to doing the best art that he possibly could.

But he was not somebody who would, on the surface, appear to be highly sophisticated. He was born in New York City. He always kept a very strong New York accent. It’s a very detectable accent. He had a great sense of humor. He was a prankster, as a boy. I think that humor, that spark, always was retained in his work, certainly until he began to address more serious subjects in the 1960s. I think the persona of a friendly, approachable everyman was something that was very specifically connected to Rockwell’s work. Whether he cultivated that knowingly, it’s hard to know, but as he took on the persona, it became more and more who people saw him as.