Tuning into Warhol

Dr Jean Wainwright Warhol Exhibition.
Dr Jean Wainwright Warhol Exhibition.

COMPLEMENTING the Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits exhibition in the Graves Gallery, are portraits of the great American pop artist in sound.

Created by art historian Jean Wainwright, The Search for Andy Warhol’s Voice features a series of audio recordings of Warhol’s family and close friends talking about the artist’s childhood, relationships and approach to his work.

This sound installation of recordings, played on old cassette players which date back to the Warhol era, are the result of a 12-year project by Dr Wainwright.

Indeed it is because of that she can call herself Dr Wainwright because it all began when she chose Andy Warhol’s own audiotapes as the subject of her PhD.

Warhol recorded so much of his life that there is an audio archive and Wainwright spent hours listening to tapes. “There’s an embargo on it now for 50 years after his death. Previously you could go to Pittsburgh and access the tapes but you couldn’t quote anything and you couldn’t take notes.”

Having done that she moved on to making her own interviews with the people who featured in the tapes. “As a result I became close to Andy’s family – his brothers, and nephew and nieces and I also interviewed amazing people from The Factory,” she explains. “I built up a relationship and did a number of interviews with people over the years.”

The aim was to compile an alternative history with anecdotes and stories of Warhol as a child and how it influenced his personality and what he became.

It grew out of an earlier research project into his films and the influence they had on Young British Artists such as Tracey Emin and Gillian Whiteread.

“It grew into thinking about the voice,” continues Dr Wainwright. “I was interested in the division between Warhol’s home life and his public life. People always said he said nothing which was a way he manipulated them in public.

“He took his tape recorder everywhere, he called it his wife with everything that implies.” In one of Dr Wainwright’s interviews to be heard at the Graves, British photographer David Bailey remarks that Warhol’s ever-present tape recorder “was part of his dress”.

She thinks this habit provides an insight into Warhol as an artist. “It is an example of how he turned everything he did into a commodity.”

This in turn may stem from his upbringing. “John (Andy Warhol’s elder brother, the late John Warhola) talks about their childhood and how they were given a huge sense of the work ethic,” she points out.

“There’s something fascinating about the family and their role in his life,” she adds.

The tapes in the Graves also include Paul Warhola, the oldest of the brother s and now aged 88. He is himself an artist, and shares his memories of Andy as a child, including his ability at drawing.

There are also conversations with the artist’s niece, Madalen, and nephew Marty who both recall exciting visits as children to their uncle in New York. 

“I have interviewed 100 people who knew Warhol,” Dr Wainwright calculates. “Originally people would tell me about how Warhol talked, this very public man who never spoke. What did he say to his friends? They would all imitate his voice when they were talking.

“I was interested in the voice and was fascinated by this man who had become incredibly famous and his human side.”

Other interviewees include Brigid Berlin who appeared in numerous Warhol films and videos, including The Chelsea Girls, documentary photographer Nat Finkelstein, and John Giorno, star of Warhol’s Sleep, a poet and Warhol’s lover.  He talks about his relationship with Warhol and the inter-relationships of the New York art scene in the early 1960s.

Artistic collaborators Christopher Makos, Gerard Malanga and Billy Name are other interviewees. The latter was present when Warhol was shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas and reflects on how frail the artist became after the shooting and how he retreated into an “ideological hibernation”.

As a specialist in visual arts, Dr 
Wainwright has found herself increasingly drawn to audio work. In a talk, she said: “I think I really love sound so I think I want to continue with the taping of the voice, the characterisation of 
the voice and the way that when people talk in an interview they give away so much of themselves. I find that fascinating.”

Andy Warhol: Late Self-Portraits and The Search for Andy Warhol’s Voice will continue at the Graves Gallery until December 1.