Andy and Mick
'The most revolutionary Pop artist of the 60s and the most famous American artist of our time.'1
Thus spoke Newsweek in the obituary of Andrew Warhol, 1928-1987. I’m sorry Andy missed it - that fay, gay, blue-collar Byzantine Catholic awhirl in a Depression-etched, Hollywood-inflamed infatuation with fame and glamour. Even after attaining celebrity status he was acutely aware of its fleeting nature and worried whether he was really important and truly great. One way to satisfy these needs and ensure his own immortality was to preserve and echo the fame of others. From Georgia O’Keeffe to Mohammed Ali, he socialised with legends and stars as a prelude to turning them into Warhol products.
In 1971, the Rolling Stones turned to Warhol to design the album cover for their first release on Rolling Stones Records - Sticky Fingers. Retreating from their artsy, trippy, late 60s efforts, the band chose Pop’s hard core artist to help them reinscribe their original appeal as black-inspired cock rockers. The logo of the Stones’ new company was a nasty cartoon image of a lascivious lapping tongue. For the front cover Warhol attached a real zipper to a life-sized crotch shot of a man in tight, leather-belted Levi’s. Ever since Marlon Brando starred in The Wild One in 1954, this had been the coded outfit of outlaws and hooligans. Warhol took the cliché and rendered it as an explicit yet spare statement of Rolling Stones phallocentricity.2
From the beginning, many saw the Rolling Stones as a raunchy, irreverent alternative to the relatively clean-cut Beatles - not unlike the attitude of collectors to Warhol as opposed to Johns and Rauschenberg. The press sensationalised Jagger’s big lips, frenetic dancing and flamboyant posing. Warhol and Jagger first met at a party for the Rolling Stones in New York in 1964, when the band was making its first US tour. Although Warhol was 15 years older than Jagger, they were gaining international publicity in the same cultural moment - the explosion of the counter-cultural and sexual liberation movements and the commercial exploitation of the generation gap. Since they were both icons of the 60s, why did Andy wait until 1975 to make portraits of Mick? Perhaps he felt that he had adequately addressed the power of rock and roll in his 1962-3 representations of Elvis Presley; it was Elvis, after all, who had started the revolution the Rolling Stones joined. Andy finally did Mick when Seabird Editions in London offered to publish a portfolio of ten screenprints.
In the summer of 1975, Mick and Bianca, his wife of four years, rented Warhol’s house in Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island. The band holed up in the small town rehearsing for their sixth American tour. There, in preparation for his new prints, Warhol took many bust-length snapshots of Jagger: in all of them he is bare-chested, wearing only a chain around his neck. The photographs captured a variety of moods and personae: happy, pretty, thoughtful, sultry, tough, beautiful, arrogant, decadent. Warhol projected the photographs and traced the images to create stylised line drawings. For the prints he combined screened images of a given photograph and drawing with screened areas of solid colour. His drawn lines and irregularly shaped patches of colour often interact with the photographic image and heighten a particular spirit. For example, the photograph featuring Jagger’s armpit grew more raunchy in the finished print: Warhol exaggerated the lower lip and made one eye look bruised to evoke a mood of staring, stupefied menace. In a clever and unusual marketing ploy both stars signed the prints. Jagger’s readymade audience was much larger than Warhol’s, and his autograph was a bonus for some buyers.
Warhol used two of his photographs of Jagger to make screened paintings. The photographic images, cropped to a square format, were printed in black ink on top of hand-painted multi-coloured canvasses. In one portrayal Warhol seems to harp back to the film Performance (1970), in which Jagger played a sinister gender-bending rock recluse: the underpainting provides a dramatic black background for a dark-haired beauty with green eye shadow and bright blue contour lines. Warhol also screened a few paintings from the armpit photograph. In one, Jagger looks far more sympathetic than in the related print: Warhol made tender blue eyes and fetching violet lips that suggest a fallen angel, and beneath the screened image, ridges of impasto evoke the texture of long locks of hair.
Warhol valued the Jagger prints and paintings because they were both artistically successful and timely landmarks of his move to market his own brand of star quality. They were advertisements to attract clients. Warhol’s diary entry for April 6, 1977 notes: ‘On TV I got a big mention when Barbara Walters interviewed the Empress of Iran. In with the other art they did a big close-up of my Mick print and Barbara said, “And surprisingly, they have a print of rock star Mick Jagger by Andy Warhol,” and the Empress said, “I like to keep modern.“‘3 Portraits were probably his most lucrative products in the 70s. If you had $25,000 it was easy to be the subject of 40 x 40” Warhol painting. And it was fun - the visit to his business headquarters, the lunch (maybe), the climactic moment of Andy pointing his Polaroid at you: You’d probably read about the scene in Interview, and you were joining a client list that included Halston, Yves St. Laurent and Princess Diane von Furstenberg.
In 1979 the artist produced a book about all this: Andy Warhol’s Exposures mixed behind-the-scenes photographs and stories about his illustrious friends and acquaintances; it showed Andy’s business and social network stretching from Studio 54 to the White House to Kuwait. In true Warholian style, it bluntly projected a bittersweet version of reality - a breathless assertion that everything is fabulous, and plenty of proof that most things are a sham. In Exposures Warhol says this about Jagger: ‘Mick brings out the bisexuality in men who normally would not be like that. He’s androgynous enough for almost anyone. That’s always been his basic appeal, mixed with the facts that: 1) He’s very talented; 2) He’s very intelligent; 3) He’s very handsome; 4) He’s very adorable; 5) He’s a great business person; 6) He’s a great movie star; 7) I like his fake cockney accent… Image is so important to rock stars. Mick Jagger is the rock star with the longest running image. He’s the one all the young white kids copy. That’s why every detail of his appearance is important.‘4
Andy understood that Mick’s real work was to be an idea, to embody that most valuable commodity, the Jagger image. Warhol’s experiences as a commercial artist convinced him that all stars prosper by faking it. Having found success as an openly gay man in the repressive 50s, he knew all about surfaces - the real bits and the cover-ups. Surfaces were his lifelong obsession. In Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues, a film of the 1972 Rolling Stones American tour, Jagger described Warhol as a ‘fucking voyeur’.5 But Jagger gladly collaborated with Warhol three years later when a portfolio of prints promised to advance his image. He was just as shrewd as Warhol. When he became a rock star he affected a blatant cockney accent, belying the fact that he was a middle class youth who studied accountancy at the London School of Economics. Warhol used other means to enthral the press - a faltering ‘Er…’ and a singsongy ‘Oh really?’
When Warhol died Jagger praised his achievements: ‘The thing that he seemed to be able to do was to capture society, whatever part of it he wanted to portray, pretty accurately. That’s one of the things artists do, is show people later on what it was like. If you want to be reminded of a certain period, you can look at what Andy was doing then. He was very much in tune with what was going on. Of course, he was criticised for that, for being sort of trendy. But I think some people’s great forte is being so in touch.‘6
Special Thanks to Margery King and John Kirk
1. Jack Kroll, ‘The Most Famous Artist’, Newsweek, March 9, 1987, p.64
2. The Rolling Stones were not models for the crotch shot; Warhol photographed Interview staffer Glenn O’Brien, and beauties Jay Johnson and Cory Tippin. See Bob Colacello, Holy Terror, New York, 1990, p.57
3. Pat Hackett, ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p.40. That month (April 1977) Jagger invited Warhol to do the cover of the Stones’ next album, Love You Live.
4. Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol’s Exposures, New York, 1979, p.29 & p.196
5. Victor Bockris, Warhol, p.346
6. Mick Jagger quoted in Rolling Stone, issue 497, April 9, 1987, p.36. In another statement, Jagger observed that Warhol’s cover for Sticky Fingers ‘was the most original, sexy, and amusing package that I have ever been involved with.’ See Kynaston McShine, ed., Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1989, p.430
frieze is now accepting letters to the editors for possible publication at firstname.lastname@example.org.