The unsung muse behind Campbell's Soup Can paintings

Leslie Herman, Julia Warhola
Lesli Herman’s illustration of Julia Warhola

Andy Warhol is the most recognisable art figure of the twentieth century. Yet we hardly ever hear of his mother Julia Warhola, who’s been the earliest and, I’d say, the most important influencer on his art.
In his story, John Niekrasz beautifully highlights the special bond between mother and son, the cues she’s left on Andy’s art and the hidden artistic rivalry between them.

In fact, the most eminent of Andy’s imagery – Campbell’s tomato soup can – was drawn from the nostalgy of his mother giving it to him for lunch every day after school.

Julia Warhola was born in Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1892. She married Ondrej Warhola in 1909 and immigrated to the United States in 1921.

With no TV or radio, Julia and Andy used nearly constant art-making to cope with the poverty, isolation, and loneliness they experienced as outsiders in urban Pittsburgh.

Andy was often sickly as a child and would spend most of his time making art in bed with the mother by his side. Julia was the one to first expose him to pop-culture imagery, encouraging him to transform it.

I buy him comic books. Cut, cut, cut. Nice. Cut out pictures from comic books.

Warhol moved to New York City to chase a career of a commercial artist, Julia followed him soon after. When Andy’s work started picking up Julia was there to collaborate in many of his commissions.

Warhol’s friends would often comment on how they were growing increasingly similar in appearance when the artist adopted his iconic silvery wig.

Andy’s obsessive representation of American visual icons and celebrity can be read as a desperate attempt to shed the mantle of the foreigner and social outsider that he and his mother shared.

The more fame the artist gained, the more the strain grew on their relationship. Despite that, Julia continued to stay beside Andy, contributing to his films and art.

Julia Warhola died in 1972. Andy Warhol did not attend his mother’s funeral and did not tell his friends and colleagues about his loss.

Original text by John Niekrasz

The Who, The What and The When is a homage to the ‘secret sidekicks’ of history – the partners and spouses, muses and lovers, relatives and assistants, neighbours and friends, even a beloved pet.
The stories are not only eloquently written, but also beautifully illustrated by 65 different artists. This book has been one of my favourites ever since I got it a few years ago, and I still love to flip through the images.

9 Comments

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