At the age of 20, the Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller took up an invitation from Andy Warhol to hang out at the artist’s eponymous Factory. It was 1986 and Deller was an art history graduate, bumping into Warhol at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, where he was approached by one of Warhol’s entourage. The visit remained entirely professional until Deller was groped by the famous Pop artist. But the overall result of the visit would have a pivotal effect on Deller’s creative perspective, and future art career. Now, the artist has curated an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in which he places Warhol alongside another of his heroes; that of the English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris.
Jeremy Deller was kind enough to give Artlyst a tour of the exhibition, and talks about the decision to juxtapose the work of, what would at first, appear to be two quite disparate artists.
“The whole overarching theme of the show is that they both had hugely sprawling careers, both were highly ambitious for art, but also highly ambitious for themselves. Both had massive multimedia careers; with strong work ethics; Warhol never stopped working, and likewise William Morris. So I think of them as very modern artists in that respect. Both had what I would describe as ‘promiscuous’ careers: in that they wanted to propagate their work. They wanted their art to be seen, to be part of everyday life. Not for an elite; Warhol loved seeing his work reproduced in magazines, on billboards, and postcards. Today we see Warhol through the auctioneers eye; through value, and Warhol would have loved how much is work is now worth; but that isn’t the artist’s story, Warhol was really the first 21st century artist. An artist that in fact predicted the internet. The idea that the image should be everywhere and everything should be available. If Warhol was alive now he would own huge parts of the internet. It wouldn’t be ‘Google’ – it would be ‘Warhol’. So I think it’s a pity that the artist’s reputation has been tied up in auction prices – which is the least interesting thing about his career. We live in the world that Warhol created – and in a way we also live in the world that Morris created.
The first room of four in the exhibition is called ‘Camelot’, it’s about mythology and the two artists – how as children through to young adults, and then to mature adults and artists – mythology remained close to both their hearts. For Morris it was the medieval world. As a child he had his own suit of armour and Shetland pony, and used to ride around his garden pretending he was a knight, imagining his ideal ‘social situation’. For Warhol it was a very different upbringing. Although like Morris, his father had died when he was 13, and both were sickly children – but instead Warhol was writing to another place of mythology – another Camelot – which was called Hollywood.
Warhol was writing to the stars of the day. These were his knights in shining armour; keeping huge books of hundreds of autographed photos. Warhol’s love of celebrity never really left him. As with Morris, whose obsession with the medieval never really left him either; both artists were reflecting these subjects in their works until their final days. With Warhol’s late portrait of Joan Collins created two years before his death; this highlights that the obsession remained to the end – the work is surrounded by photographs including Mae West. Next to the work is Morris’ ‘Attainment Of The Grail’ which was one of his last works; in fact the piece was not completed in his lifetime, as it took so long to make.
Of particular interest is a signed portrait of Shirley Temple owned by Warhol. In some respects almost all that you need to know about Warhol is that he had this photo as a child. While his father was dying, a 13 year old Warhol wrote to her for an autograph, [the image reads ‘ to Andrew Warhol…’] the photo is also hand-coloured, thought to have been coloured by Warhol’s brother. When you think about the subsequent portraits of film stars, there is very little difference between the photograph and Warhol’s portraits. they are very similar in terms of colouring and even how they’re framed. Next to the photograph is a rug, a Warhol tapestry that has never been seen in the UK before. It was created in 1968, what this shows us when juxtaposed with the Shirley Temple photo is that Warhol was a very sincere artist. These were not ironic works. He believes in these people and looks up to them.
Warhol, like Morris was very interested in politics and power; Camelot, of course, was also linked to the Kennedy administration. We now take for granted Warhol’s appropriation, which was really quite shocking for the period; at one point he cut the head off an image of Jackie Kennedy that became a work of art, and then resulted in a lawsuit. Like I say this level of appropriation is something that we now take for granted; but at the time it was quite a revolutionary act. Basically through Pop Art, Warhol and other artists destroyed Abstract Expressionism. You can imagine, almost overnight, that it was made redundant. This new Pop Art was the way of looking at the world and disseminating art.”
Read part two of Jeremy Deller’s tour here
Read part three of Jeremy Deller’s tour here
Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol – Modern Art Oxford – until 8 March 2015
Words: Jeremy Deller with Paul Black Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2014 photo Artlyst all rights reserved