Andy Warhol’s Seven Hand-Illustrated Books: Charming, Little-Known, and Now Available to the World (1952–1959)

Got a knack for draw­ing, paint­ing, sculpt­ing, cre­at­ing hand­made objects of any kind? You’re maybe more like­ly to mon­e­tize your skill—with an Etsy or Pin­ter­est account, for example—than move to New York and try to make a go of it. Were such con­ve­nient means of set­ting up shop avail­able in the late 40’s, when Andy Warhol stud­ied art edu­ca­tion and com­mer­cial art at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh and Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty, respec­tive­ly, one won­ders whether the often bedrid­den, intro­vert­ed artist might have found it more appeal­ing to work from home in Pitts­burgh, and stay there.

Instead, he moved to New York and became a suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial artist by using his illus­tra­tion skills to mar­ket him­self. Before he was a “bell­wether of post-war and con­tem­po­rary art” with those famous silkscreen paint­ings in the 60s; before he made those famous films, dis­cov­ered (and invent­ed the con­cept of) art stars, and man­aged the Vel­vet Under­ground, Warhol cre­at­ed sev­en hand­made books “as part of his strat­e­gy to woo clients and forge friend­ships.” So writes Taschen books, who have col­lect­ed and reprint­ed Warhol’s art books in a sin­gle edi­tion. (Five of the sev­en have nev­er before been repub­lished.)

Warhol reserved the sig­na­ture books for “his most val­ued con­tacts. These fea­tured per­son­al, unique draw­ings and quirky texts reveal­ing his fond­ness for—among oth­er subjects—cats, food, myths, shoes, beau­ti­ful boys, and gor­geous girls.”

They are inti­mate and charm­ing, show­ing a side of the artist we don’t often see—but one we do see of so many con­tem­po­rary illus­tra­tors. His hand-drawn illus­tra­tions have a very 21st cen­tu­ry feel to them in their obses­sion with cats, cakes, fash­ion, and hap­py, nude zaftig beau­ties. Cre­at­ed between 1952 and 59, they could have come from any num­ber of illus­tra­tion or design sites. It’s easy to imag­ine a cur­rent-day Warhol mak­ing a liv­ing sell­ing work like this online.

Had he been able to do so, might he have become a dif­fer­ent kind of artist entire­ly? It’s impos­si­ble to say. I can imag­ine a num­ber of peo­ple for whom I might buy copies of Love Is a Pink Cake, 25 Cats Named Sam, or À la Recherche du Shoe Per­du, as a hol­i­day gift. But Warhol didn’t make copies of these books. He saved the mass pro­duc­tion for his lat­er gallery work. Instead the hand­made call­ing cards remain “lit­tle-known, much-cov­et­ed jew­els in the Warhol crown,” ear­ly exam­ples of “the artists’ off-the-wall char­ac­ter as well as his accom­plished drafts­man­ship, bound­less cre­ativ­i­ty, and innu­en­do-laced humor.”

You might not know it from can­vas­es like Eight Elvis­es, the Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe series, or Campbell’s Soup Cans, but Warhol had a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent for light, whim­si­cal hand-drawn illus­tra­tion. It’s a side of him­self he showed few peo­ple once he became the Andy Warhol most of us know. Thanks to Taschen’s new book, a recent gallery show­ing of Warhol’s draw­ings, a 2012 Chron­i­cle col­lec­tion of his quirky illus­tra­tions from the 50s, and, well, Pin­ter­est, it’s a side of him that can now belong to every­one.

You can now get your own copy of Andy Warhol: Sev­en Illus­trat­ed Books 1952–1959.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Bet­ter World

Short Film Takes You Inside the Recov­ery of Andy Warhol’s Lost Com­put­er Art

Miyaza­ki Meets Warhol in Campbell’s Soup Cans Reimag­ined by Design­er Hyo Taek Kim

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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