From Andy Warhol kitsch to angry young artists' Kitchen Sink dram

Geraldine Norman
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:52

A group of wholly unknown drawings by Andy Warhol are on show at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery this week - providing an eye-opening insight into what the great Pop artist was doing before he started playing with photographs. They date from the 1950s , the years immediately following his move from Pittsburgh to New York, when he was working on advertisements, record sleeves and fashion illustrations.

He squirreled away the drawings and they were left for his executors to dispose of when he died - along with some 5,000 other drawings of varying dates. Most of those on show still belong to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York, themain beneficiary under his will, though about one third of them have been bought outright by the d'Offay Gallery.

The huge voume of art works that Warhol left when he died are gradually being sold by the foundation, mostly through dealers, such as d'Offay, who represented the artist when he was alive. These drawings are the cheap end of the spectrum; prices for his photo pieces can run up to around $4m.

There are two kinds of drawing at d'Offay: decorative drawings using gold and silver leaf which relate to his work as a commercial artist- the subjects are the public's old favourites, a pussycat, a bunch of flowers, children, a cherub - and, secondly, very simple line drawings doodled with a ballpoint pen for his own amusement.

Both speak of the Andy to come. The tinselly gold and silver ones reflect his enjoyment of kitschy, popular culture, while the pen doodles show his quirky vision of the human condition. Most of them are body parts, a head, a chest, a crotch or a foot with an almost fetishistic fascination with body hair - they are very moving. The first are priced in the $15,000 to $30,000 bracket and the second around $10,000. Five were sold at the private view last week, with purchasers ranging from a pop star to an Oxford don, and eight more were reserved next day.

In the 1950s, when Warhol was at work on these drawings, Abstract Expressionism was the dominant fashion in the galleries. But he was not alone in disdaining abstraction; in Britain the so-called "Kitchen Sink Painters" were presenting a new aesthetic, still firmly grounded in figuration. The two London dealers Julian Hartnoll and James Mayor have currently combined to mount a "Kitchen Sink" exhibition, including both oils and drawings, at the Mayor Gallery in Cork St. Almost all the drawings come directly from the artists themselves or their heirs and have not been seen before.

John Bratby, Derrick Greaves and Edward Middleditch represented Britain at the 1956 Venice Biennale. They strove to portray a realistic vision of daily life of the period; their breakthrough was to bring working- class life to the canvas, just as the "angry young men" were introducing it to the theatre.

Unlike Warhol, their achievement has made no major dent in art history and even the large oils at Mayor are priced at £20,000 to £30,000; there is a wonderful Bratby study of a kitchen table covered in comestibles, pottery hot water bottles, and other period junk, with two dogs curled underneath it, which is priced at £20,000.

The drawings are all in black chalk - strong, fast and intimate. Derrick Greaves has beautifully captured his baby son asleep (one at £2,200, one at £2,400) and Bratby has a nostalgic "Interior with television" - a very old-fashioned television in a Blackheath interior - at £ 1,800.

Gold, silver and other early drawings is at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, 23 Dering St, LondonW1, until 28 January.

Kitchen Sink and other drawings of the Fifties is at the Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork St, London W1, until 23 December.

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