Two sides of life

Photographs by Andy Warhol and Stewart Martin
By GREG COOK  |  December 17, 2009

ON THE ROAD Martin’s Vermont Bus View Rt 30-VT.

"I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist," the Pop artist Andy Warhol wrote in 1975. "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

Warhol (1928-1987) was a hit advertising illustrator in the 1950s and then became one of the most influential fine artists of the century with his iconic '60s paintings of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. In the '70s, he focused on making money by painting portraits of the rich, famous, and powerful. He turned himself into a disco-era John Singer Sargent, averaging 50 to 100 commissions a year.

VIEWPhotos of “Andy Warhol: A Recent Acquisition Exhibition” at Bannister
Photos of Stewart Martin’s “Personal Favorites 1975-2007” at AS220

The beginnings of each portrait were Polaroid snapshots, a selection of which is on view in "Andy Warhol: A Recent Acquisition Exhibition" at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through January 8). The 49 photos come from a gift of 159 photos that Warhol Foundation donated to the school last year as part of the foundation's "Photographic Legacy" project, which gave Warhol photos to 183 educational institutions across the country, including the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University.

Here small Polaroid portraits feature Bianca Jagger, soccer star Pelé (with his brilliant smile), painter Jamie Wyeth, Pia Zadora (flashing a breast), Farah Diba Pahlavi (then queen of Iran), and a bunch of folks you've probably never heard of. Some subjects appear multiple times, as Warhol looked for the right shot to blow up into a painting. He printed the shots in high contrast, suggesting a paparazzo's flashbulb while eliminating wrinkles and blemishes. Some of the women here are slathered with white makeup to help get that effect. There are snaps of guys' bare chests and asses, glimpses into Warhol's gay desire. Also included are black-and-white slice-of-nightlife shots featuring the likes of John Travolta and Liza Minnelli.

The Polaroids are more homely than the glitzy paintings Warhol transformed them into (which aren't represented here), with the photos screeenprinted onto canvases atop dumb-ass faux Expressionist brushwork. The paintings aren't his finest work. But even in this raw beginning stage you can feel a Warhol style: tossed off, diaristic, fabulous preening as if for mall Glamour Shots®, but at the same time awkward, as if aware it's all something of a put-on.

In the last decade of Warhol's life, as if both acknowledging his eminence and looking to reconnect with electric fresh ideas, he befriended and at times became a mentor to rising art stars like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring cameos in Providence photographer Stewart Martin's show "Personal Favorites 1975-2007" at AS220 (115 Empire Street, Providence, through December 27). Haring is young and energized, in leopard print eyeglasses, a tank top, and jeans, as he chalks a picture of a person with snakes wiggling out of his head onto a blacked-out billboard at New York's 23rd Street subway stop in the mid-1970s.

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Related: Ghost stories, Wanting more, Photos: Boston expressionism at Danforth Museum, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Rhode Island College, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island College,  More more >
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