Andy Warhol: The Complete Commissioned Record Covers
Liza Minelli Live at Carnegie Hall, 1981.
The album cover is an icon of the past, of an age when vinyl was something to be collected. The 12 x 12 inch surface was a canvas ripe for exploration, the square format offering infinite interpretations. The album cover, such as it was, provided a space for the artist to put us in the mood, to seduce us with images, words, ideas. It offered a space for contemplation, as the record spun round, creating a delicious interplay between audio and visual experience of the work. As a result, album covers, in certain cases, have become icons themselves.
Progressive Piano, c.1954.
Andy Warhol designed his first record cover in 1949; clearly he sensed the value of the medium, for he launched his career phoning record companies and soliciting them. Over the years, until his death in 1987, he created more than fifty covers which are presented beautifully in Andy Warhol: The Complete Commissioned Record Covers 1949-1987, Catalogue Raisonné, 2nd Edition by Paul Maréchal (Prestel). Produced at nearly actual size, with photographs of the original works, along with entries detailing the story of each album, this catalogue is a compendium of sumptuous delight.
Warhol’s gift for blurring the lines between high and low art and be felt in each and every illustration he created. His best known works, the covers of The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (1971), appear alongside lesser known works such as Monk featuring Thelonious Monk with Sonny Rollins and Frank Foster (1954) Giant Size $1.57 Each, released in conjunction with the exhibition The Popular Image at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art (1963). Taken together as a group, we can follow the thread of Warhol’s transformation from illustrator to artist, his visual vocabulary becoming more exact and extreme as his ideas take hold.
The charm of early Warhol is its innocence, it’s lack of awareness of what is to come, and it’s ability to express an endearing naïveté that is endlessly compelling. The young Andy had a way with line that complemented the albums he illustrated; his flowers for Chopin: Nocturnes Vol. II are sweet serenades brilliantly befitting the composer’s oeuvre while the hands playing the clarinet for Artie Shaw’s Both Feet In The Groove (1956) affect a vibrant, upbeat mood.
Melodic Magic Volume 1, 1953.
Warhol’s hand is particularly evident in The Story of Moondog (1957), which relates, “Moondog is a poet who versifies in sounds, a diarist overcome by love, curiosity and amusement by everything that reaches his ears, all of which he transposes into a symphony of himself. It may be the casual chatter in a room or, best of all, it will be that secret music that seeps through imagination and memory. These experiences, so dull to the dull but so alive to him, he orchestrates into a record of those enchanting conversations everyone can hold with himself if he only listen for a bemused moment. They make up the script of that unique tragi-comedy, the story of someone’s life. Picking up our ears would be so easy, yet it’s seldom done. But when the Moondog compels us to do it, we are entranced and delivered willingly into new worlds of meaning.”
All images © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.