Andy Warhol meets Norman Rockwell in the Berkshires

James Warhola remembers his Uncle Andy in his uncle’s first New York apartment, sketching high-heeled shoes for an advertisement in the New York Times. He would ink the drawing and blot it, a technique he would use later in his artwork.

When his uncle first painted a Campbell’s soup can, Warhola says, he thought it was a continuation of the same work. And in a way he was right.

Andy Warhol came from an immigrant family in Pittsburgh. He learned his craft through classes at the local museum, college and the Art Students League. As a young artist he was making a living with commercial art and sculpture from crunched fenders and electronics his brother, Paul, would pull out of the family junk yard.

Warhol became one of the American leaders in the Pop art movement, using images from advertising, cartoons and comics and everyday things. His nephew sees the influence of those early years in the summer show Inventing America: Rockwell and Warhol, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

The museum is showing a retrospective of Warhola’s artwork at the same time, as an illustrator and as an author of children’s books.

Warhola compares himself more to Rockwell than to his avant garde uncle. He sees clear contrasts between Warhol’s irony and Rockwell’s storytelling humor, as in their images of Jackie Kennedy: Warhol’s silk-screen shows her in mourning, coming from his death and disaster period — and Rockwell’s is a vision of beauty.

But they have a lot in common, he says. Warhol would have known Rockwell’s work and respected it.

“My uncle was proud of his life as an illustrator,” Warhola says. “… He learned so much. It was like grad school — painting, drawing, imagery — bright color, the Dr. Martin dyes that made his work brilliant to the point of garish.”

“Everything he learned in that decade, in the ’50s, how to catch attention — he was a visual genius,” Warhola says. “And in the ’60s it poured out of him.”

This story first ran in the July issue of Berkshire Magazine. My thanks to Anastasia Stanmeyer.

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