Monday, July 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol, by Bonnie Christensen (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8 to 12.  

Although I was an art history major in college, I knew little about the personal life of pop-art icon Andy Warhol.  Bonnie Christensen's new picture book biography of the artist is an excellent introduction to this important figure in 20th century American art.

The chronological narrative provides many details on Warhol's childhood that will resonate with young readers.  He grew up in a very poor family in Pittsburgh, and Andy was sensitive and artistic from the beginning.  Teachers and family recognized his talent for drawing at a very early age.  Christensen writes:
"Andy drew constantly.  When he was supposed to be covering outfield during a baseball game, his brother found him drawing flowers and butterflies in the front yard."  
In third grade, little Andy was ill for months with Saint Vitus's dance, which caused muscle spasms and permanently blotchy skin.  Surrounded by comics and movie star photos, Andy continued drawing.  When he returned to school, children teased him about his skin, calling him a sissy because he was so close to his mother, but art continued to be his salvation throughout high school and art school.

Children will especially love seeing Andy's painting Why Pick on Me, done during his college years, which depicts a boy picking his nose.  This work introduced Andy to controversy, and people flocked to see his work.

After art school, Warhol moved to New York, where he quickly landed a job in magazine illustration.  As his career progressed, Andy grew more and more successful, but he was not satisfied.  He wanted to be famous--as famous as the Queen of England, or a famous artist like Matisse, not just a successful illustrator.  But how could he break into the "fine art" world?

It was a friend who suggested he paint something so familiar that nobody even notices it, like a Campbell's soup can.  His exhibit of 32 paintings of different types of Campbell's soup caused a sensation at a Los Angeles gallery, and his career as a fine artist began.  He went on to paint portraits of many movie stars and other subjects.

It's particularly noteworthy that Warhol reproduced his own paintings with the help of many assistants, calling his studio The Factory.  He made movies as well, and soon was as famous as he had dreamed.

Back matter includes an author's note with a number of lesser-known details about Warhol, including that he may have had dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome.  She also provides a brief bibliography and a timeline.

While I liked the text in this picture book biography very much, I found the artwork less appealing.  The artwork was created by using collaged photo transfers on canvas, which were then painted in oil, and which feature many dark colors with heavy brushstrokes and thick black outlines.  This style seems almost the exact opposite of Warhol's most famous pop art, and there are no reproductions of his actual artwork, just Christensen's renditions.  I would definitely want to pair this biography with another work that features reproductions of his paintings, since I don't feel her renditions give a good sense of his style.

For other children's books on Warhol, see Susan Goldman Rubin's Andy Warhol:  Pop Art Painter (Harry N. Abrams, 2006) or Uncle Andy's:  A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol, by James Warhola (the artist's nephew) (Putnam, 2003) or Andy Warhol:  Getting to Know the World's Famous Artists, by James Venezia (Children's Press 1997).

1 comment:

Carol H Rasco said...

Thanks for a great bibliography on Warhol whom I have not read a great deal about either...this is such a terrific start, you have inspired me to get started!