When Andy Got His Sticky Fingers on an Album

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When Andy got his sticky fingers on an album... Andy Warhol: The Record Covers 1949-1987, Catalogue Raisonné By Paul Maréchal Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Prestel, $75, £40

Reviewed by Steven Heller

Andy Warhol (1928-87) is the artist who will not die. His life and work helped alter the way art was perceived and practised in the latter half of the twentieth century, and there is no reason why it shouldn't keep on giving. Last year alone there was Andy Warhol in China (photographs of his 1982 visit, by Christopher Makos), Warhol's Jews (the catalogue of a show at the Jewish Museum in New York) and the 'Warhol Live' exhibition that explored his role in music and dance. This touring show (which ends at the Warhol Museum in his home town of Pittsburgh in June 2009) also spawned Paul Maréchal's Andy Warhol: The Record Covers 1949-1987, which reproduces (often with discoloration and other imperfections) 51 of his covers (often front and back on contiguous pages) at expansive lp scale.

As a historical document, Maréchal's impressive book is well worth the shelf space. And as a record of Warhol's significance in bridging fine and commercial arts, it is an essential archeological resource.

Everyone who knows anything about Warhol is aware that he began as a designer / illustrator (best known for promotions for I. Miller Shoes, though he also did his share of book jackets, advertisements and brochures). When he went to New York to make something of himself, he was introduced to Robert M. Jones, art director at Columbia Records (1945-53) and later at rca Victor. Maréchal quotes Jones on his first meeting with Warhol: 'Andy came up that afternoon . . . And I gave him three little spots to do for the corners of the standard albums. He needed money. I never kept any records but I know that these little spots must have been amongst the first things he did.' These illustrations (two of which are reproduced large) were blotted line drawings, one a replica of an Aztec frieze and another an interpretive battle scene to illustrate Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky (copied, Maréchal notes, in a primitive way from Sergei Eisenstein's film of the same name).

Warhol's early covers were not exactly illustrious, but showed his potential as an illustrator. This is when he introduced his blotted line technique, which, according to Maréchal, he claimed to have discovered when he accidentally spilled ink onto a sheet of paper and reproduced the stain motif by applying a second sheet onto it. 'Warhol particularly liked the mechanical aspect of this technique, which distanced the artist from his creation,' Maréchal says. …