Kaitlin Madsen, Ryan Pham | September 1, 2016
“Julia Warhola” (1974) by Andy Warhol
There was nothing more elusive to interviewers than Andy Warhol’s past. He loved to give one-word answers, deflect questions, or even outright lie to them. Because of this, it was difficult to really get to know who Warhol was and where he came from. Warhol said himself, “I’d prefer to remain a mystery. I never like to give my background and, anyway I make it all up different every time I’m asked. It’s not just that it’s part of my image not to tell everything, it’s just that I forget what I said the day before, and I have to make it all up over again.” Although Andy may have seemed distant from his family, in reality his relationship with his family was quite the opposite. Andy’s mother, Julia Warhola, actually lived with him in New York City from 1952 until 1970, and it was Julia that inspired Andy to pursue art.
(Photo: Saul Leiter, Andy Warhol and Julia Warhola 1950 [Left] and Photo: Getty, date unknown [right])
Julia Warhola was born in what is now called Slovakia. Growing up she learned a variety of arts and crafts from her immediate family, who deeply valued the arts. She loved to sing, and often sang the folk songs she had learned as a young girl. Julia also practiced embroidery, hand-making paper and tin flowers, and decorating eggs. What most influenced Andy, however, was Julia’s drawing and calligraphy. She loved to draw, and her art most often featured cats and angels. In 1957, five years before Andy’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Julia illustrated a small book titled Holy Cats. Andy’s early artistic work, though more sophisticated, often consists of simple line drawings that were typical of his mother’s style. The similarities are most evident in Andy and his mother’s collaborative book of cat illustrations, 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy.
(Photo: Holy Cats by Julia Warhola [left] and 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy by Andy Warhol [right])
It was clear Andy admired his mother’s art, and he often asked her to contribute her calligraphy to his illustrations and books. Even when she made a mistake Andy loved her work. He used her handwriting for the title of 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, and when she forgot the “d” in “Named” he decided to keep it the way she had written it. But it wasn’t only Andy that appreciated her script. Julia’s handwriting was the sole piece of art on the album cover for The Story of Moondog, which won her an award from the American Institute for Graphic Arts. Despite her relative success as an artist, Julia was a mother first. She even labeled her own book as “by Andy Warhol’s Mother.” Perhaps it was because she was proud to be his mother, or perhaps, like her son, she knew famous names could sell art.
(Photo: The Story of Moondog Album Cover)