A Gold Book

Andy Warhol’s A Gold Book (1957) was self-published to showcase his talent to art directors. Decadently golden— inspired by a trip to Bangkok and the gold-lacquered furniture seen there— it is lavish, too, in its variety of subjects, listed as “boys, filles, fruits … flowers [and] shoes”.

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Meaning & Analysis

In the 1950s it was usual amongst artists to send examples of work to art directors by way of self-promotion and with the intention to connect and gain exposure for their new work. During 1957, Warhol published A Gold Book for exactly this purpose and it remains one of Warhol’s more elaborate self-published projects.

The print run was limited to 100 copies and the 22 page volume was bound in a lavish shimmery gold hard cover adorned with distinctive cursive lettering by Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola, and featuring the famous actor James Dean who died in a car accident two years before in 1955.

Thirteen of the plates within the volume were included as lithographs printed on a rich gold paper and the rest were on white paper with black thinly lined images. These are reminiscent of Warhol’s blotted-line technique that he developed as an illustrator. The blotted-line technique is effective in the plates where the limited palette of gold and black evokes a strong image, versus some of the plates that are on white wove paper, which feature individually hand coloured watercolour. By working in this manner - selecting areas with particular attention to floral and nature motifs - Warhol achieves a harmonious juxtaposition.

A close friend of Warhol’s, the production designer Charles Lisanby, said that the book and the plates inside were inspired by traditional southeast Asian gold-leaf lacquered furniture with contrasting black designs. It was seen by Warhol on a trip to Bangkok during a seven-week journey around the world that he ventured on in 1956.

The depictions in this book are varied and showcase Warhol’s abilities as an artist. He described its subjects as “boys filles fruits and flowers shoes”, the work also includes images of Edward Wallowitch whom he was romantically linked to at the time. Many of Warhol’s initial inspirations throughout his career came from photography, his work and thought process often started off as a photograph before being developed and subsequently manipulated into a painting or print. In this instance Warhol traced the drawings of childhood from photographs taken by Edward Wallowitch. A Gold Book marks Warhol’s early career and touches on many subjects that he would subsequently continue to be fascinated with, including celebrity, childhood, commercialism, sensuality and sexuality.

10 Facts About Andy Warhol's A Gold Book

A Gold Book, Hand With Carnation, (F. & S. IV.115) by Andy Warhol

A Gold Book, Hand With Carnation, (F. & S. IV.115) © Andy Warhol 1957

1. The series was created as a self-promotional portfolio.

Back in the 1950s, it was customary for commercial artists to send portfolios of their work to editors and art directors for exposure. Each edition of A Gold Book was addressed to a different person, as a way to maximise Warhol's exposure in the commercial industry. A copy of A Gold Book owned by MoMA, for example, is addressed Russell Lynes, an editor at Harper's Bazaar.

A Gold Book by Andy Warhol

Image © Christie's / A Gold Book © Andy Warhol 1957

2. The series was inspired by Southeast Asian lacquered furniture

During a seven week journey around the world in 1956, Warhol visited Bangkok and was instantly inspired by the rich visual culture he saw there. The style and gold-leaf in this series was informed by Southeast Asian gold-leaf lacquered furniture with contrasting black imagery. The series visualises the effect of Warhol's personal experiences on his artwork, fairly early on in his career.

A Gold Book by Andy Warhol

Image © Christie's / A Gold Book © Andy Warhol 1957

3. The series is typical of Warhol's early style as a commercial illustrator.

In both its style and subject matter, A Gold Book is reminiscent of Warhol's early printed works in the 1950s. While living with his mother in New York, Warhol worked as a commercial illustrator for shoe companies and fashion publications. A gold-leaf and black lithograph of shoes from this series is particularly comparable with his La Recherche Du Shoe Perdu series, and evidences his mastery over the shoe illustration.

You Can Lead A Shoe To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink by Andy Warhol

You Can Lead A Shoe To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink © Andy Warhol 1950