It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.
In 1960, Andy Warhol was the opposite of a starving artist. In fact, he was a prosperous illustrator, living in a private townhouse on Lexington Avenue and Eighty-Ninth Street. The block was developed in 1888 by New York’s aristocratic Rhinelander family, wealthy landowners who commissioned the architect Henry Hardenbergh to build six attached Northern Renaissance Revival houses on one of their properties in uptown Manhattan. Hardenbergh had designed the legendary Dakota apartment building on the Upper West Side, and he would go on to build some of the city’s greatest hotels, including the Waldorf and the Plaza, among other landmarks. Decorated with brightly colored stone facades, arches, and balustrades, the buildings he erected for the Rhinelanders looked like dwellings in a fairy-tale village.
Sadly, these storybook houses deteriorated over the years. In 1931, Lexington Avenue was widened, narrowing the sidewalk and forcing the buildings to be stripped of the stairs that led to their parlor-floor entrances. Most of the residences in the row turned into rooming houses and offices, but Andy saw the potential in these
quaint old buildings and claimed one as his home. He moved in and filled four floors with his unusual possessions. One of his favorite pastimes was scouring antique stores and art galleries for new acquisitions. His collection included a variety of penny arcade machines that sprayed perfume, tested strength, and dispensed gumballs; carousel horses; stuffed peacocks; a phrenological head; a giant, somewhat sinister-looking Punch figure; a cigar-store Indian; Tiffany lamps; neoclassical furniture; and the beginnings of an art collection, including a distinctive double portrait of Andy and his friend Ted Carey that had been painted by the artist Fairfield Porter. The friends thought that they could cut the painting in half and have two portraits for the price of one, but Porter, anticipating their plan, placed them so close together that it was impossible to separate them.
The parlor floor, the house’s public space, had two rooms—a small one overlooking Lexington Avenue, and a larger, paneled living room in the back. Andy described the rooms as “kind of schizo” because he designated the smaller space for his commercial work, his freelance illustration assignments, while he claimed the bigger room as his art studio and salon, the place where he did his real painting. His mother, Julia, and their ever-growing population of cats named Sam were installed in rooms on the street-level floor of the pale blue building, which contained a homey kitchen and an adjacent bedroom. His bedroom, outfitted with a brand-new four-poster bed, was on the third floor, and the other upstairs rooms were used for additional studio space and storage.
Andy’s Upper East Side address, shopping sprees, and expanding art collection were proof of his success, but he wasn’t satisfied. He still considered himself a work in progress, a man who was going
places but had not yet arrived. When one considers where Andy had started in life, the extent to which he had already transformed himself was nothing short of miraculous.
Andy was the youngest son of Julia and her husband, Ondrej Warhola, Eastern European immigrants (specifically, Ruthenians), who came from Miková, a tiny village in the mountains of Slovakia. At the turn of the twentieth century, young Mikovians realized that the only way to move up was to move out. Nineteen-year-old Ondrej did just that in 1906 when, like many of his countrymen, he traveled to America in search of fortune. He worked in Pittsburgh for three years before returning to Miková with his hard-earned bankroll.
Strong, blond, handsome, and prosperous by his village’s standards, he attracted the attentions of every mother with a marriageable daughter. But it was seventeen-year-old Julia Zavacky, a golden-haired spitfire, who immediately caught his eye. Smitten, Ondrej proposed, only to be rejected. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Julia was a free spirit who loved to sing and tell stories, and she was not yet ready to become a wife. Knowing that suitable suitors were hard to come by in Slovakian villages, her practical parents pressured Julia into accepting Ondrej’s proposal.
The couple soon settled into the grinding routine of village life—work, work, and more work. Three years later, Ondrej came to the sobering realization that there was still no future in Miková. In 1912, he returned to America, promising to send for his wife and their infant daughter as soon as he had saved enough money. Nine years passed—years of war, deprivation, and heartbreak for Julia, who lost both her parents and her daughter to illness—before
she took matters into her own hands and borrowed the money she needed to join her absent husband.
The Warholas reunited in 1921 and settled in Pittsburgh, a grim, gray, industrial city covered with so much smoke and fog that its inhabitants lived under a cloud of perpetual darkness. They moved into cheap tenement housing with primitive outdoor plumbing, and they struggled to get by on Ondrej’s wages. The couple welcomed a son, Paul, in 1922, followed by John in 1925. Paul and John resembled their stalwart father, but Andrej, the Warholas’ third son, was like a changeling—one of those enchanted infants from gypsy folklore whom the fairies substituted for a human child when the mother wasn’t looking. Baby Andy, who was born on August 6, 1928, was so fair and fragile that he seemed to come from another world. Julia was charmed by her cherubic infant and instantly started spoiling him.
Her older boys were born knowing how to take care of themselves and were constantly hatching schemes to make money, whether selling newspapers or delivering ice. Andy, on the other hand, was a delicate, introspective child who needed all the special attention that Julia gladly gave him.
Despite his mother’s coddling, Andy learned early that hard work and thrift were the key to survival in Depression-era Pittsburgh. When Ondrej lost his job, forcing him to tighten his already taut belt, the hard times only made him work harder at whatever job he could find, and to save even more of what little he earned. By 1934 he had put aside enough money to buy half of a two-family house on Dawson Street, in the working-class section of Oakland. The Warholas rented their second floor to generate income, but the rest of the small house and yard, including a garden in the
back for Julia, was their palace, an immigrant family’s American dream come true.
Although Andy was bright, he was also shy and fearful, and he preferred quiet games with the neighborhood girls to the rough-and-tumble activities his brothers enjoyed with other boys. The children’s school, Holmes Elementary, was down the street from their house, so the brothers came home for lunch every day. Julia usually served Campbell’s Soup, and tomato was Andy’s favorite variety. When not in school, he spent his time drawing, coloring, and cutting out paper dolls. His mother rewarded his best pictures with praise and Hershey bars, promoting an insatiable sweet tooth that would stay with him the rest of his life. Julia thought of herself as an artist, too, and she made colorful floral bouquets out of paper and tin cans that she sold to housewives looking for decorative touches for their modest homes.
The Warholas acknowledged that Andy was spoiled, but no one in the family seemed to mind his favored status. When, at the age of seven, he asked for a movie projector, his brothers were taken aback by the unusual request, but were not at all surprised when their resourceful mother found the money to buy one secondhand. Andy projected cartoons on the wall, turning the modest Dawson Street living room into his own private picture palace.
Watching cartoons at home was no substitute for seeing stars on the big screen, and Saturdays brought happy outings to the local movie theater. It was there that Shirley Temple flashed her dimples and dazzled devoted fans like Andy with her adorable song-and-dance routines. The fabled child star had a lot to sing about in 1936: her movies, including Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel, Captain January, and her most recent hit, The Poor Little Rich Girl, were so
popular that Twentieth Century Fox was paying her an astonishing $50,000 per film.
As much as Andy enjoyed the star’s fanciful movies, he always dreaded the inevitable moment when a father, or some other parental stand-in, would rush in at the end of the film to claim the curly-topped little girl. “It ruined everything,” he complained.
“I don’t want to know who the father is.” Even at an early age, Andy preferred fantasy to reality.
Shirley Temple had poise, charm, beauty, talent, celebrity, wealth, and an unlimited variety of happy endings. Of course Andy wanted to be just like her. “Morningstar,” “Andy Morningstar”—that’s what he called himself in his fantasies. He picked the name because it suggested bright beginnings, brilliance, fame. Alas, Andy was stuck with the less glamorous “Warhola,” and the decidedly prosaic life that went with it.
“Being born is like being kidnapped . . . and sold into slavery,” he lamented when he was older.
Andy escaped to the movies most Saturdays, but he spent every Sunday in church. Located in a neighborhood called Ruska Dolina, or the Rusyn Valley, Saint John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church was founded in 1910 by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants who longed for the religious traditions they practiced in the old country. On Sundays, Julia and Andy rose early and walked a vigorous mile to make the first Mass at 7:00 a.m. They stayed at church the entire day, praying, socializing, and attending two more masses. Andy dutifully sat with his mother, staring at the magnificent iconostasis—a wall of hand-painted icons that had been commissioned for the church’s interior.
Painted in vivid gold, blue, red, and other rich colors, the icons were beautiful to look at, but they were meant to be much more than pretty pictures. Icons were “scripture to the illiterate,” according to
Saint Gregory the Dialogist, one of the early Roman popes.
“What writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned,” he explained. The images of saints and religious scenes had a visual language all their own—an oversized forehead symbolized wisdom, full lips suggested eloquence, and large ears were the mark of a compassionate listener. The bright gold backgrounds haloing oversized heads indicated divine light, or heaven. Every aspect of an icon, including its color and scale, was infused with meaning and story.
The Warhola routine was interrupted in 1936, when eight-year-old Andy contracted rheumatic fever. It was a common illness in Pittsburgh, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, where children sometimes played near open sewage. But Andy’s recovery was unusually slow, and there were complications. His hands shook, his legs were weak, his speech was slurred, and he had difficulty concentrating. Worse still, he couldn’t stop fidgeting, and his limbs and torso constantly twitched in every direction. Eventually, the Warholas realized that something was terribly wrong. Only then did their doctor confirm that Andy’s rheumatic fever had developed into Sydenham’s chorea, a neurological disorder more commonly known as Saint Vitus’ Dance, a cruel name for an illness that causes its victims to move in an awkward parody of dancing.
Thomas Sydenham, a famous seventeenth-century physician, first described the disorder in 1686, calling it “a kind of convulsion . . . a constellation of involuntary, purposeless, rapid movements of the limbs; muscular weakness; and emotional lability.” Two hundred and fifty years later, the treatment for Saint Vitus’ Dance was no more sophisticated than it was in Sydenham’s time: patients had to endure a slow recuperation in a quiet environment, more commonly known as “bed rest.”
Staying in bed for ten weeks would have been a challenging experience for most eight-year-old boys, but not for Andy. To him, the term “bed rest” sounded luxurious, something that would be prescribed for movie stars, not an ordinary child like Andy Warhola. Julia moved her son’s bed into the first-floor dining room, where she and Ondrej normally slept, and showered him with attention, supplying comic books (Popeye and Dick Tracy were his favorites), movie magazines, candy, whatever he wanted. With his brothers’ help, Andy wrote to movie stars—Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda—requesting publicity stills and autographed pictures, which, when received, he carefully pasted into a special scrapbook. Julia also encouraged Andy to do art projects, hoping such activities would help improve his motor skills.
Eventually Andy recovered, but he had been transformed by his illness.
He seemed even paler and more fragile than before, and the rashes that accompanied Sydenham’s chorea affected his fair skin, which became so blotchy and irregular as he matured that the neighborhood children called him “Andy the Red-Nosed Warhola.” There were other changes, too. Andy had gone Hollywood during his “intermission.” He was starstruck by the celebrity stories he had read in all those movie magazines, and the photographs he collected, including a signed, tinted headshot of Shirley Temple (dedicated sweetly, if incorrectly, to “Andrew Worhola”), were his prized possessions.
Post bed rest, Andy enjoyed drawing more than ever. Eventually, one of his teachers recognized that the odd little boy had real talent and arranged for him to attend free art classes at the Carnegie Museum on Saturday mornings. Although the museum was only a mile or so from Andy’s house, it stood at the center of a completely different world from the working-class one he occupied. That part
of Oakland, nicknamed “the city beautiful,” was Pittsburgh’s showplace and cultural center, as well as a playground for its privileged millionaires.
Every Saturday, Andy went to the museum to study art with his fellow Tam O’Shanters, the name given to the group to honor its late Scottish American benefactor, the millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He was envious of the pampered rich students who arrived at school in limousines—fancy Packards and Pierce-Arrows.
Yet when class started, talent was the great equalizer, and Andy quickly proved that he was “more equal” than the other students. The instructor, Joseph Fitzpatrick, called his work “individual and unique,” and he frequently held it up for the other students to admire. Even Ondrej recognized that his youngest son was a promising artist who was not destined to remain on Dawson Street. He planned accordingly, secretly putting aside money to fulfill another immigrant dream: Andy would be the first member of the Warhola family to go to college.
Ondrej did not live long enough to see that dream come true. He became ill, possibly from a liver infection, and when he knew he was dying, he told Paul and John about Andy’s college fund. It was understood that the older boys would take care of their gifted younger brother. Ondrej passed away in 1942, and two years later, the family faced another crisis when Julia was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent a colostomy, recovered, and continued to look after her three industrious sons. Paul and John went to work so they could support the family, while Andy raced through high school and finished in three years. Upon graduation, he announced that he would use his father’s savings to study commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
Commercial art is what got Andy his townhouse on New York’s Carnegie Hill, just blocks from where Pittsburgh’s own Andrew Carnegie once had a Manhattan mansion and estate. Andy was proud of his accomplishments, observing,
“Uptown is for people who have already done something.” But, he added wistfully, “Downtown is where they’re doing something now.” In 1960, that downtown New York art scene was exploding with daring new talent. The Abstract Expressionists had stirred the pot by shunning traditional painting and turning their canvases into emotionally charged nonrepresentational performance pieces. But the next generation of revolutionary artists now declared their independence by embracing the concept of the “concept.” Like modern Columbuses, they set out to chart a new course, to prove that art didn’t have to be flat, or serious, or even important. While Andy was safely tucked away in his private house in Carnegie Hill, these upstarts were downtown, scattered throughout New York’s fringe neighborhoods such as Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan, the Lower East Side, the East Village, and SoHo. Rents were cheap, spaces were large, and if an area was dangerous at night, it was a small (and unavoidable) price to pay for producing exciting art in stimulating surroundings.
Thirty-one-year-old Claes Oldenburg was downtown doing something very “now” in his apartment-studio on East Fourth Street.
Born in Stockholm, raised in Chicago, and educated at Yale and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Oldenburg aspired to be a painter, but when he moved to New York in 1956 he grew “just a little tired of four sides and a flat face.” He wanted to liberate his work from the constraints of the past.
“I am for art that does
something other than sit on its ass in a museum,” he said. “I am for art that grows up not knowing it is art at all.” To this end, Oldenburg started using cast-off materials from the city streets—pieces of wood, burlap garbage bags, newspapers, and anything else he could find—to create experimental constructions that expressed the essence and energy of the urban landscape.
He did acknowledge that there was also a less conceptual reason for foraging. Oldenburg was the classic starving artist; he worked part-time at the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration and, consequently, was unable to afford materials.
When times were good, he and his soon to be wife, the beautiful and high-spirited artist Patty Muschinski celebrated with pork chops and beer. On other occasions, they went to bed with growling stomachs.
In January 1960, Oldenburg and Jim Dine, a fellow downtown artist, created a double installation called The Ray Gun Show at the Judson Gallery, which was located in the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South, a classically beautiful house of worship designed by the architect Stanford White in 1893. But as New York’s aristocracy moved uptown, the venerable old church became less social and more socially conscious, offering medical assistance and shelter to its low-income congregation, veterans, and the homeless. In the 1950s, while promoting civil rights and freedom of expression, the Judson invited local artists, including Oldenburg and Dine, to display their work in its galleries without fear of censorship. The artists were encouraged to do anything, and they generally did.
The Ray Gun Show featured two experimental environments: Oldenburg’s The Street, which consisted of oversized burlap figures and cardboard constructions, and Dine’s companion piece,
The House, a chaotic assemblage of paint cloths, bedsprings, signs with quotidian messages such as “Breakfast is ready,” and floating body parts—a new take on domestic bliss.
If these disjointed images weren’t shocking enough, visitors were welcome to come to the Judson to attend the artists’ performance pieces, known as “Happenings.” The new artists saw a fluid line between art and reality, and wanted the viewer to step into the art. Furthermore, they questioned why an artist had to work in one particular medium.
According to Allan Kaprow, who staged the first Happening, “the young artist of today need no longer say ‘I am a painter,’ or a ‘poet,’ or a ‘dancer.’ He is simply an ‘artist.’?”
Happenings set out to prove that the new aesthetic landscape had no boundaries. Artist and audience were liberated from their defined roles. These events were spontaneous, to an extent. But Oldenburg actually wrote scripts, recruited a cast, rehearsed, and provided lighting notes (although “lighting” could mean a friend flipping a switch on and off) for his Ray Gun performances. Patty made the costumes. The stage directions were casual, such as “man looks in hand mirror,” or “woman salutes,” and characters performed in disjointed set pieces that resembled scenes from silent movies. The old-fashioned concept of story was replaced by a “spirit of exploration and experiment,” which meant that everything happened all at once. There were real ideas behind the action, even if they were not always apparent. From the audience’s point of view, attending a Happening was like being at the center of a bizarre tableau vivant where anything could happen.
Inspired by these experimental mavericks and the recent success of the up-and-coming artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Andy wanted to return to his fine art roots and spend more
time painting. His friend Emile de Antonio, an oversized and outspoken man who knew everybody in the art world, gave him the push he needed. “De,” as he was called, often stopped by Andy’s place at the end of the day for a generous serving of Scotch and conversation. He was a great raconteur, conversant in all the arts, including filmmaking (he would, in fact, become an acclaimed documentarian), a great womanizer (much married and divorced), and überintellectual. He also loved to gossip.
On one occasion when De was holding forth about his friends “Jap” and “Bob”—offering the kind of insider information Andy loved to hear about Johns and Rauschenberg—he stopped to say, “I don’t know why you don’t become a painter, Andy—you’ve got more ideas than anybody around.” This is exactly what Andy was thinking: I should be painting. The question was, what should he be painting?
Andy had faced the same challenge several years earlier, when he was starting out as an art student at Carnegie Tech. Pittsburgh was considered an important city for art because of the International, an exhibition founded and funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who, unlike his fellow robber barons, had no interest in acquiring an elitist personal art collection. Instead, he endowed his namesake institution with one million dollars to mount an annual salon dedicated to the works of living artists from around the globe. Over the years, painters as illustrious as Henri Matisse were delighted to participate because Carnegie had thoughtfully included a sizable cash prize for the winner of the annual competition.
In 1940, when World War II made it difficult to import submissions from overseas, the show was renamed “Painting in the United States” and featured the works of such American artists as Ben Shahn, Paul Cadmus, and Edward Hopper. This annual,
encyclopedic who’s who of contemporary art provided Carnegie Tech students with privileged access to an extraordinary array of talent, and it was just one of the reasons why top-notch art teachers such as Balcomb Greene, Robert Lepper, and Sam Rosenberg, among others, were attracted to the city.
These gentlemen may not have been household names, but they were all distinguished working artists, as well as demanding professors of aesthetics, art history, and philosophy. The Art Department at Carnegie Tech had very high standards. At seventeen, Andy was imaginative, but he was not a consistent student, and art school presented him with a number of challenging firsts. A classmate, Bennard Pearlman, recalled the look on Andy’s face the first time he laid eyes on a nude female model.
“Poor Andy,” he said. “He appeared to grow pale and a coed whose easel was adjacent to his thought he was about to faint.” The coursework was difficult and the textbooks advanced, and Andy found himself struggling to keep up with classes like Thought and Expression that involved extensive reading and writing.
According to Gretchen Schmertz, a fellow student, Andy “could barely write a sentence.” Nor could he speak in public—Pearlman said it was actually painful to watch Andy try to answer a question because he strained for every word.
Then there was the problem of settling on a style. Art students were expected to express themselves in a distinct and personal way, but Andy was confused. Which way was his way? Should he be a realist? Should he turn to the past for inspiration, or try to create something new? The art world was such a free-for-all that even established artists—Balcomb Greene, for example, who started out painting abstract works, but later turned to landscapes and figures—switched styles midcareer.
By the end of Andy’s freshman year, several of his professors were not convinced he had the talent—or the dedication—to make it through the program.
“If anyone had asked me at the time who was the least likely to succeed, I would have said Andy Warhola,” observed Robert Lepper, one of his teachers. And Lepper had actually liked Andy’s work. Russell “Papa” Hyde, who was sympathetic to Andy’s situation, sensed that he needed time to mature and decided to give him another chance. Professor Samuel Rosenberg agreed, and advised Andy to attend summer school to offset the Cs and Ds on his report card. Barring a miraculous makeover, his future at Carnegie was in serious jeopardy, Andy tearfully admitted to his brothers. He immediately followed Rosenberg’s advice and signed up to repeat the class he had failed.
Andy also had a job that summer. His enterprising brother Paul was working as a huckster, selling vegetables from the back of a flatbed truck, and Andy reluctantly served as his helper. They drove through Pittsburgh in the sweltering heat, catering to finicky housewives who bargained for produce. Andy hated the job so much that he passed the time by sketching. Papa Hyde, who ended up being one of his professors at summer school, urged him to carry a sketchbook everywhere and to stop trying so hard to please his teachers.
“You do it the way you see it . . . to please yourself,” he insisted, “and if you don’t do it, you’ll never amount to a damn.”
Determined to take more chances, Andy looked closely at Paul’s customers and captured what he saw in a series of hyper-realistic, quickly executed, premier coup (at first touch), drawings. His penetrating eye saw through his subjects right to their very souls, and he suggested with a few deft strokes of his pen that they were as worn and as colorless as their shapeless clothes. Andy was so pleased with
his work that he entered his drawings in a local contest at the end of the summer. He won a coveted forty-dollar prize and the admiration of the very teachers who had previously doubted his ability.
“Artist Huckster Sketches Customers and Wins Prize,” the Pittsburgh Press reported in an interview with the young artist, praising his “series of pen-and-ink sketches that show the vagaries of everything from the idle rich to the scrambling poor.” Andy wittily compared the harried mothers who congregated around his truck to the old woman who lived in a shoe, women who, like their nursery rhyme counterpart, had “so many children they didn’t know what to do.” And, while he disdained the “new rich,” the pompous ladies who treated him like a servant to impress their friends, he assured the reporter that he was very impressed by the graciousness of the real rich. “Silver-apron families asked less in the way of service than even the poor,” he pointed out knowingly, as if he had vast experience with Pittsburgh high society. The article—and the accompanying photo of a proud Andy—was his first taste of fame.
When school resumed, there was no longer any question that Andrew Warhola had talent. No one had to tell him to take chances: being edgy and a little “off” came naturally to him now. In fact, he had an expression for his skewed, very “Andy” way of doing things. He called it being “exactly wrong.”
“I like to be the right thing in the wrong place, or the wrong thing in the right place,” he would say. Professors and classmates alike were impressed by his unique way of handling assignments.
“He had a stylistic integrity about his work . . . Andy always drew in a way that you knew was his,” praised a fellow student, George Klauber. Andy was perfecting a technique that would come to be known as “blotted line,” whereby he created an ink drawing, blotted it, and used the mirror image.
The Carnegie campus was transformed in 1946 by an influx of veterans enjoying the benefits of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill. That fall, Andy befriended a talented veteran and fellow Pittsburgh native named Philip Pearlstein. Their paths had almost crossed in the 1930s when Pearlstein studied with the Tam O’Shanters at Carnegie’s Saturday-morning art program. He had started at Carnegie Tech in 1942 and left when he was drafted, but he was nonetheless a bit of a local celebrity because his work had been featured in Life magazine.
Andy still lived at home, but the house on Dawson Street was crowded with his brothers, their wives, and their growing families, so he preferred to spend most of his time on campus. Carnegie Tech was both an escape and a rich cultural environment. In addition to studying great art at the museum, Andy was able to see avant-garde films imported from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and attend performances and lectures by such contemporary artists as Martha Graham, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Joseph Cornell.
Andy was still unusually pale and a little awkward, but he was also fresh, fun, and offbeat enough to be considered “interesting” instead of odd. He and his circle enjoyed such a strong sense of camaraderie that one idyllic summer they pooled their money and rented a nearby carriage house to use as a studio. They painted, argued about art, and created a vital creative community for themselves. It was Andy’s first, intoxicating taste of la vie de bohème, and he loved it.
School was exciting and enlightening, but Andy found true inspiration in—of all places—Pittsburgh’s leading department store. It was time for postwar America to start shopping again, and Larry Vollmer, the talented head of display at downtown’s prestigious
Joseph Horne, was just the man to convince the city’s fashionable matrons to go on a spending spree. To lure customers into the store, Vollmer wisely hired a Carnegie Tech art student—namely, Andy—to help him come up with eye-catching windows.
“When you think of it, department stores are kind of like museums,” Andy once said.
In addition to dazzling Andy with stories about his adventures in the big city (including working with the great Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí on a controversial window display), Vollmer introduced him to fashion magazines. One of Andy’s assignments was to read Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as international fashion periodicals, to find design concepts for Horne’s windows. As he worked his way through stacks of gorgeous high-end glossies, Andy discovered that every issue was full of treasure, offering fascinating information about fashion, celebrity, high society, art, literature, and popular culture. Whether he was reading about upcoming exhibitions by the artists Paul Klee, Joan Mir?, and Alexander Calder, or learning how to pack for a summer weekend in Newport, Southampton, or Maine, Andy was becoming more sophisticated—so sophisticated that he spent a weekend in New York City, sightseeing and visiting museums with Philip Pearlstein.
As Andy became more confident, he developed a high opinion of his own “oeuvre.” At the end of the year, when art students cleaned out their desks and portfolios, they generally gave their work to other students who expressed interest. Not Andy. He wanted top dollar for his creations and refused to part with anything if the price wasn’t right.
“He was a kind of genius,” Pearlstein said.
“Like an angel in the sky at the beginning of his college times.”
Jack Smith, another veteran attending Carnegie on the GI Bill, described Andy
as “the damndest mixture of the six-year-old child” with “all the skills of a well-trained artist.” And, he added, “He puts them both together with totally no inhibitions.”
The most vivid example of Andy’s newfound confidence was his senior-year painting, The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose, which depicts a young boy with his finger thrust deeply and unashamedly up his nostril. Aficionados of the work may have called it bold and expressionistic, but most of the judges at the 1949 Pittsburgh Associated Artists exhibition deemed “Nosepicker” an insult, and refused to hang it in the show. It was arrogant of him, they thought, to paint such an overtly rude gesture and call it art.
Yes, but in a funny way, the work was a fitting commencement piece, somehow conveying the idea that any boy could do as he pleased—pick his own nose, or his own life. In this spirit, Andy realized that while he could stay in Pittsburgh and settle into a predictable career of teaching art at a public school, he also could try something different. He couldn’t stop thinking about the glamorous world of New York, and Philip Pearlstein thought they should pack up their portfolios and take their chances in the big city. He suggested they go together right after graduation.
Andy was apprehensive about leaving his mother, his brothers, and everything that was familiar, and Julia was reluctant to let him go. But Dawson Street had become small and confining and presented limited opportunities. Like his father before him, Andy decided that the only way to move up was to move out. It was time to leave Pittsburgh—his own version of Miková—to seek his fortune in a new world.