Andy Warhol & The Rock World Connection

A screenprint by Andy Warhol depicting Mick Jagger in black ink against a background of collaged colour panels in grey and teal blue. The print is signed by both Warhol and Jagger at the bottom of the composition.Mick Jagger (F. & S. II.138) © Andy Warhol 1975
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Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

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“He’ll think about paint and he’ll think about glue, what a jolly boring thing to do.”
David Bowie's ‘Andy Warhol’, from the 1971 album ‘Hunky Dory’

So sang David Bowing in his song Andy Warhol, from the 1971 album Hunky Dory. Ironically, Andy never painted David’s portrait. But he did paint Mick Jagger’s. In retrospect, Andy Warhol stood at the intersection of the rock world and art world during the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. When he opened his Factory to a host of musicians passing through New York, it proved to be the catalyst for how painters and musicians could influence each other’s art.

Jim Morrison

A number of rockers attended Factory parties. Among them were Jim Morrison of the Doors. There’s a scene in the Oliver Stone film, The Doors, where a stoned Morrison interacts with Andy. Though the scene was imagined by the filmmaker, it accurately depicts the two of them perplexed by one another; it was hard to say who was the more eccentric of the two. What is known is that upon leaving the party, Morrison began walking back to his hotel, while reflecting on what he had just witnessed at the Factory. Then he began noticing people coming out of the subway stations — emerging from the underground — much like Warhol’s “underground” scene. This led him to write the song, People are Strange (which appears on the album Strange Days).

Album cover design by Andy Warhol for The Velvet Underground's 1967 album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’. The album cover features a screenprinted yellow banana against an off-white camera, with Andy Warhol's name written beneath the banana.The Velvet Underground & Nico © The Velvet Underground, Nico and Andy Warhol 1967

The Velvet Underground

In 1967, Andy was approached by the newly-formed Velvet Underground (featuring Lou Reed) to act as a producer for their band. Besides lending the group his name and connections, Andy’s main contribution was the design of the cover of their first album, simply called The Velvet Underground & Nico. Who can forget the yellow removable soft vinyl banana and the tiny instructions at the top: “Peel Slowly and See.” Once you removed the yellow banana sticker, it revealed the edible fruit, which was illustrated in a memorable pink color. Today, the Velvet Underground’s music might sound a bit dated to some, but Warhol’s album cover design remains a classic of the genre.

Album cover design by Andy Warhol for The Rolling Stones' album ‘Sticky Fingers’ in 1971, depicting a man's groin-area in jeans. The zipper of the jeans is a real, three-dimensional zipper, and the title of the album is written in red in the top left.Sticky Fingers © The Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol 1971

Mick Jagger

Warhol would go on to design numerous other album covers including one for John Lennon’s Men Love Ave. He was also called upon to illustrate Time magazine covers depicting Michael Jackson and Prince, respectively. Then there were the celebrity portraits, including Debbie Harry — possibly Andy’s most beautiful example. But perhaps Warhol’s greatest design efforts were extended on behalf of the Rolling Stones.

In 1971, he was hired by Mick Jagger to come up with a creative package for their new album Sticky Fingers. Mick sent Andy a telegram offering suggestions for what he was looking for. At the bottom of the note, he wrote, “In my short sweet life I’ve noticed the more complicated the design, the more fucked up it gets. But with that in mind, I leave this in your capable hands.”

“I thought the album cover he did for the Rolling Stones’s Sticky Fingers was one of the more original, sexy and amusing packages that I’ve ever been involved with.”
Mick Jagger, speaking of Andy Warhol's cover for the Rolling Stone's album ‘Sticky Fingers’

Andy responded by instructing the record company to glue an actual metal zipper into the black and white cardboard cover, strategically placed in the crotch of a photograph of a pair of jeans. Upon its completion, a delighted Mick said, “I thought the album cover he did for the Rolling Stones’s Sticky Fingers was one of the more original, sexy and amusing packages that I’ve ever been involved with.” We don’t know for certain how many albums Warhol’s witty design helped the Stones sell, but it didn’t hurt. Sticky Fingers remains one of the Rolling Stones’s biggest selling albums and Andy’s contribution has become inseparable from its myth.

Andy had originally met the Stones back in 1964 during their first American tour. The introduction was arranged by one of his Factory superstars, “Baby Jane” Holzer. The relationship took root and eventually led to a small series of Mick Jagger canvases (1975) and the famous Mick Jagger portfolio of ten silkscreen prints. The latter were distinguished by how they were each signed by Andy and Mick, creating interest among both art collectors and rock memorabilia collectors.

Dining with Rockstars at Max’s Kansas City

The real cross-pollination between Andy and the rock world took place at the New York eatery Max’s Kansas City. Founded by Mickey Ruskin in 1965 (it closed in 1981), it became the watering hole for Manhattan’s downtown creative types. Andy Warhol was known to hold court in the back room of the restaurant. Warhol and his entourage would sit around a large table eating and drinking while discussing the comings and goings of the art world. They were frequently joined by musicians, including Patti Smith and her boyfriend at the time, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. One can only speculate on what unusual creative ventures were launched at that table. As an interesting aside, Warhol was known to pay his tab with artwork. He once gave Mickey Ruskin a Marilyn #23 to cover future bills.

A screenprint by Andy Warhol depicting Elvis Presley twice, in a red shirt and burgundy trousers, pointing a gun out towards the viewer.Image © Sotheby's / Elvis Blue © Andy Warhol 1982

Elvis Presley

In 1963, Andy painted a major series of metallic silver paintings of Elvis Presley. What’s interesting here is the story about what happened when Bob Dylan visited the Factory (in 1965). Andy was making movies at the time and really wanted to meet Dylan and convince him to star in one of his pictures. Warhol, who was never shy about trying to enlist the rich and famous in his projects, somehow persuaded Dylan to stop by the studio and shoot a brief screen test. When they were done, Bob was alleged to have asked Andy, “What are you going to pay me?” Before Andy could answer, Dylan pointed at a six-foot silver Double Elvis leaning against the wall and said, “I’ll just take that.” Andy was more than willing to give Dylan a small painting to ingratiate himself. However, he wasn’t prepared to give him a major work of art. The next thing you knew, Dylan and a friend roped the canvas to the top of a station wagon and drove off.

Not long after, Dylan told his manager Albert Grossman (who also managed Janis Joplin) about the Warhol painting — which he didn’t really like. Supposedly, the conversation went something like this:

Albert Grossman: “What do you want for it?”

Bob Dylan: “How about that couch over there.”

Albert Grossman: “Deal.”

Years later, after Albert Grossman passed away, his widow Sally would go on to sell Double Elvis for over $800,000 at auction. Meanwhile, Dylan, who was never one to reveal his inner feelings, was quoted as saying, “That was one of the stupidest things I ever did.”

Those interested in learning more about Andy Warhol’s connection to the music world might enjoy picking up a copy of the double-volume book, Music and Dance in Andy Warhol’s Work, published by Prestel, in 2008.

Richard Polsky is the owner of Richard Polsky Art Authentication which specialises in authenticating the work of seven artists including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring:

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