The Renaissance Men of Warhol’s Printing Press: Gerard Malanga, Alexander Heinrici, and Rupert Jasen Smith

By Reagan Carraway

Andy Warhol at work on a silkscreen painting. 1964, The Silver Factory By Ugo Mulas.
Andy Warhol at work on a silkscreen painting. 1964, The Silver Factory By Ugo Mulas.

Few stars radiate as brilliantly in the pop culture galaxy as Andy Warhol did in his Silver Factory. His iconic works have permeated the realms of art, culture, and society, painting the name Warhol as the very definition of en vogue. Behind his technicolor creations were not just heavenly brushes and strokes, but a myriad of artistic collaborators that lifted Warhol’s masterpieces to a higher plane of existence. Amongst the numerous printers on Andy’s roster, a particulate triumvirate brought their own distinct hues to Warhol’s POPified palette. Enter Gerard Malanga, Alexander Heinrici, and Rupert Jasen Smith – the Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michaelangelo of the printing press whose influences were instrumental in transforming Warhol’s visions into tangible masterpieces.

Gerard Malanga’s partnership with Warhol took flight in the 1960s, an era synonymous with counterculture revolutions and daring expression. Their culminated creations were no different, embodying the spirit of the time with colorful satire and rockstar sex appeal. Within Warhol’s world, Melanga was the silver thread that skillfully wove together film, photography, print, and all things that defined Andy’s come-up. Before working with Warhol, Malanga was enrolled in The University of Cincinnati’s College of Art and Design, but left to pursue a multifaceted track as an artist and poet at Wagner College on scholarship. It was in 1963 that mutual friend and poet/filmmaker Charles Henri Ford introduced Warhol and Malanga. Having previously worked in a men’s tie manufacturing facility, Malanga had experience in textile silkscreen printing and was hired by Warhol for a summer job that would quickly become a 7 year period of collaboration so prolific that in 1992, The New York Times crowned Malanga “Warhol’s Most Important Associate”.

Malanga’s significance in Warhol’s artistic narrative mirrors the symbiotic relationship between streaming platforms and contemporary storytelling. Just as streaming revolutionized how narratives are consumed, Malanga revolutionized how Warhol’s visions were captured. Early days of the relationship garnered silkscreen masterpieces like Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie. Malanga’s mastery of silk screening breathed life into Warhol’s portrayal, mirroring how digital effects breathe life into modern blockbusters. Malanga’s interdisciplinary interests soon proved to be an asset beyond the canvas. Around 1964, Warhol and Malanga created Screen Tests, a series of more than 500 film portraits. The arresting stills from Screen Tests later became source material for a book, Screen Test/A Diary Reprint Edition (1967), co-created by Warhol and Malanga, whose poetry accompanied the stills. During these years, Malanga participated as an actor/cameraman/producer of Warhol’s avant-garde films when the Pop artist was fully diving into the dawn of digital deluge. Among some of his features, Malanga was in Batman Dracula, Kiss, and the cultural touchstone, Chelsea Girls. Ultimately, Malanga also contributed to Warhol’s body of work by introducing him to Paul Morrissey, who would become a fierce steward of Warhol’s filmography.

Gerard and Malanga by Harry Shunk, 1965.
Gerard and Malanga by Harry Shunk, 1965.

The uninhibitedness of Malanga’s spirit and creativity in all facets undoubtedly lended itself to the innovation in the Silver Factory. In 1966, Andy Warhol ventured into his experimental multimedia performance art project, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring rock-poetry band The Velvet Underground. Malanga embodied new roles as a dancer, choreographer, and fiercely opinionated lighting designer. Mary Woronov, an associate and EPI dancer with whom Malanga had briefly been involved, recalled the show’s early days at the Dom in New York City:

“It was very new for a rock and roll band to have a show, much less a Warhol movie playing behind it. In art, however, it was the time of happenings and guerrilla theatre… At The Dom, Gerard was the one who chose the paraphernalia and tone for our dance. We did stuff like miming shooting up heroin with gigantic plastic needles. He got the strobe lights and gave me the costume, bought me my whip and my first pair of leather pants… you know, just your basic S&M stuff.”

EPI’s essence captured the cool, kaleidoscopic essence of the sixties intertwined with the subterranean foreboding allure of drug culture. Both as the performer and behind the scenes, even Malanga’s commitment to dance made it clear that he fully captured the core of Warhol’s expansive visions. After helping Warhol found Interview in 1969, Malanga has continued his work in filmmaking, photography, and poetry, despite having trouble connecting with other contemporaries at times. “The poetry mafia in New York has not been very kind to me, because, I think, of my connection with Andy. Jealousy.” Nevertheless, Malanga’s poetry is well-known and his work with Warhol made him a modern luminary on the path to a new form of art.

In the 1970s, Viennese master-printer Alexander Heinrici played an integral role in Warhol’s personal golden age. Heinrici pursued formal education in digital design, photography, and print in Vienna, followed by an apprenticeship in Zurich. Following this experience, he returned to Vienna to contribute his expertise to his family’s printing company. By the time he met Warhol in the United States, Heinrici had opened two studios, forged a reputation, and had a roster of European and American clientele. In fact, Andy came to him.

It was in 1972 that Heinrici acquired Aetna Silkscreen Products, which Warhol had used previously to print the likes of his iconic Marilyn Monroe, Flowers, and Flash. Heinrici’s seamless printing style was what attracted his client base, but Warhol’s unbridled nature pressed Heinrici to create imperfections to better capture the essence of his own signature style. This became a distinctly “Warholian” approach, transforming even errors into artistic statements that echoed Warhol’s embrace of the unconventional.

Mick Jagger Portfolio by Andy Warhol.

Warhol’s signature themes of commodified products and identities were saturated with a more visceral layer of satire with Heinrici, who helped the artist coat his commentary with the colors of flavor-filled Fun-Dip Sugar. Together, Heinrici and Warhol collaborated on famous works like the Bubblegum Pop-esque Cows and grungy Jagger, which heightened the Pop style to new realms of color and commercial allure. Heinrici also printed Warhol’s Hand-Colored Flowers as well as the black and white version of the same series. Their projects reflect the fusion of reality and augmented reality in contemporary culture, just as filters augment our social media posts, a testament to the ever-increasing interplay between tech and art.

Heinrici and Warhol also collaborated on the controversial, but beautiful Ladies and Gentlemen series, which depicts 14 black and Latin X trans women and drag queens of the New York scene, including Marsha P. Johnson, a staunch leader of the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation. Heinrici’s role extended beyond his collaboration with Warhol, as he and his printing press became a visionary ferry to success for luminaries such as Robert Indiana, Willem de Kooning, and Roy Lichtenstein. With his company Fine Art Printing, Ltd., Heinrici now continues to perpetuate the spirit of his exceptional legacy as an artist and conductor of dreams, the fruits of which will live forever.

Perhaps Andy Warhol’s foremost collaborator was Rupert Jasen Smith. When he met Warhol in 1974, Smith already had education and experience in the art and printing domain. Smith joined Warhol’s team in 1977, quickly proving himself an Apollo of pigments and the printing press. He seamlessly integrated his craft with Andy Warhol’s vivid visions and helped produce a groundbreaking strain of Pop art that redefined the perception of imagery in the digitized age.

By this time, Warhol’s production methods were putting meaning to the Silver Dream Factory’s moniker, with the artist having mastered the mimicry of the manufacturing model dominating a huge portion of the American population’s wishlists and wallets. Warhol and Smith’s partnership, which would last until Warhol’s sudden death in 1987, brought burgeoning success. This was particularly so in the 80s, when portraits commissioned from Warhol were selling faster than Campbell’s Soup Cans before a storm.

Rupert Jasen Smith and Andy Warhol on a Ferry to Fire Island. By Bob Colacello, 1979.
Rupert Jasen Smith and Andy Warhol on a Ferry to Fire Island. By Bob Colacello, 1979.

Smith and Warhol brought us the eccentric Space Fruit (1979), Camouflage (1986), which transformed the conventional idea of the military print to trendy, and other iconic portfolios including Diamond Dust Shoes (1980), Myths (1981), Endangered Species (1983), and Ads (1985). In all of their works together, it is glaringly evident that Smith inherently understood the essence of Warholian glamor, the allure of celebrity, and the rapidly shifting zeitgeist and consumerism’s place in it all. It was Smith who suggested Warhol begin to use “diamond dust” to crust some of his works. Smith’s fusion of technique and creativity not only added literal, monetary value to Warhol’s concepts, but also expanded his artistic reach. Outside of The Factory, Smith held his own as a multimedia and print artist, forging a dynamic and mutually inspiring relationship between his pursuits. His perfectly “Pop” pieces like Greta Garbo (1988) and of course, Homage to Andy Warhol (1989) will be remembered in their own right. Still, Rupert Jasen Smith’s contributions to Andy Warhol’s body of work shine particularly bright like the glimmering shards encrusting their Diamond Dust Shoes.

Homage to Andy Warhol (1989) and Greta Garbo (1988) by Rupert Jasen Smith.

Andy Warhol’s collaboration with his printers reminds us that creativity knows no bounds, and innovation thrives in the company of kindred spirits. Warhol’s collaborations spanned years, paralleling the perpetuity of trends cycling through our own contemporary culture. As Warhol’s canvas danced with Pop Art products, portraits, and pigments, Heinrici, Smith, and Malanga assumed their roles as guiding hands, sculpting the contours of a legacy that now resonates as the modern art Renaissance.