A man who pictured the shape of modernity

SUCCESS is a job in New York. It was an illustration for an article in Glamour Magazine dated September 1949.

The first illustration by rising artist Andy Warhol. Someone who was to go on to become one of the world's most influential artists.

Post World War II and advertising agencies blossomed. It was the Mad Men era of Madison Ave and it's where Warhol became highly sought-after. Sketching fashion and ads of shoes, clothing, perfume.

Now his sketches are on display in Sydney - some never exhibited before.

Adman: Warhol before pop is one of those timed/ticketed exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where you can enjoy special moments with the art but without the crowds.

Yet if you are looking for the Marilyn and Mao prints, the Campbells soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles of his pop art period, forget it.

This is an exhibition of the early works of Warhol, as he struggled to find fame in the advertising world.

More than 300 works, many never seen on public display, provide an insight into this artist.

A man for his time or a time for this man?

We learnt lots about the pop Warhol period in the exhibition at GOMA 10 years ago, but little about his life before that.

That's why this exhibition is so fascinating. We see his style developing, his whimsical humour and wit, the way he used creativity over technical ability. The way he observed or reflected life and used it as comment, long before personal computers and mobile phones.

In doing so, he established his own identifiable brand ... a style that appealed to clients at a time when photography was on the rise.

Warhol established this approach with his first New York commission, for the September issue of Glamour magazine. By 1952 he had a roster of clients that included magazines, record labels and the fashion industry.

It's great to wander and check out the interactive screens depicting artist Warhol's journals. Various subject, personal life and advertising sketches of shoes and feet (in particular) abound.

Then there's the thought-provoking sketch of Natalie Wood. One of those quick, relaxed and skilful sketches only a professional artist can whip up so quickly and easily.

I wonder: "When did she die?”

So quickly, so easily research is done there and then. The tragic drowning one windy night after a shoreside dinner and drinks. Too much drink? A BAC of 0.14%. Enough alcohol in the bloodstream and brain to make reaction and thoughts encumbered.

So, art provokes curiosity, the internet enables information.

Visiting the Warhol exhibition opens many closed doors of long ago memories.

Remember when same sex relationships were hidden away in the closets? Illegal.

Warhol and his cohorts changed attitudes. This exhibition mixes personal and private lives, while introducing Andy's mother. She lived with him in New York, and was responsible for the handwritten script in many advertisements.

He could have easily become a shoe designer by the quality of his illustrations.

Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Slovakian immigrants, the young Warhol battled illness that confined him to bed for long stretches until his teens.

His mother had a very religious background and she played a big part in his life, particularly after the early death of his father who was a coal miner.

Perhaps it was this background that gave him the drive to succeed.

His copy in the ads captured the imagination. The big Miss Dior piece.

He helped decorate such stores as Tiffany & Co., Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. He designed album covers, book jackets and even illustrated the raindrops, suns and clouds used in early-morning television weather reports.

How he used his mum's handwriting in some of the copy ... that was charming

Yet very telling. He used people a lot. Other people became his own art.

He removed himself from the art and he reflected life, as it was.

Not glorified ... maybe that's what he meant by his quote: "The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.''

The way he worked at his craft. Removing emotion or soul. Just copying and reflecting people's desires back at them.

He didn't confine himself to one medium. He tried them all ... just like he tried everything later in life when fame found him.

It's understanding his early years. Working to be a success in New York City.

Don't expect to be blown away or to take selfies like Marilyn.

Expect to get a history and education and insight on what led to that era.

And take your time. Read it all. Look at it all.

It's more like a little museum or an open encyclopaedia than a typical gallery viewing. Even the mundane should be fascinating.

As Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand explains, it is an exciting opportunity for visitors to the gallery to understand the formative years of one of the world's most influential artists, providing deeper insight into the making of an icon.

"It is difficult to think of an American artist who has exerted a greater impact on the visual culture of our times than Andy Warhol, so we are thrilled to present this first-time experience for Australian audiences to delve into the early years of his career.''

Adman: Warhol before pop at the Art Gallery of NSW until May 28. Book timed entry tickets: artgallery.nsw.gov.au.

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