Sunday, February 19, 2012

Warholized Cemetery Angels

It’s rather odd that my own fifteen minutes of fame actually involved Andy Warhol. In the February 2012 DaVinci Art Alliance exhibit, “Warholized (The Silver Show),” one of my two photographic entries, “Vibrating Angels,” was awarded Honorable Mention. What made this truly an honor was that the judges were Andy Warhol’s niece and nephew, Madalen and James Warhola.

DaVinci’s multimedia group exhibition (February 4-26, 2012) features artistic interpretations of the impact, influence, and inspiration of Andy Warhol, on the silver anniversary of his death (25 years ago). The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue/book including essays by various Warhol notables.
For the show’s opening a couple weeks ago, the Warholas (“Warhola” was Andy’s real last name) involved the audience in a panel discussion (led by art historian and Warhol scholar Debra Miller, PhD), explaining their own art and telling stories about growing up with Uncle Andy. Madalen runs the family silkscreening business, “Warhola Designs,” and James is an illustrator. (In addition to books, he has drawn for Mad Magaine and the popular “Garbage Pail Kids” trading card series.) James was kind enough to sign a copy of his children’s book, “Uncle Andy’s Cats” for my 2-year-old daughter Olivia. (See photos from Opening Night.)

A week after the opening, it was my turn to gallery-sit. When I showed up, the gallery director congratulated me on the award, and totally surprised me by telling me that “Vibrating Angels” had been purchased on opening night. I was knocked out when he told me that Madalen Warhola bought it! This is probably the single highest art honor I’ve ever received – that my work will reside in the Warhol family collection.

At Andy's Grave (Photo by George Ondis)
Warholized (The Silver Show)” is really a wonderful exhibit, with photography, sculpture, painting, and fabrics – some of which include the inevitable Campbell’s soup can idea. (Appropriately enough, Campbell’s sponsored the show!) You can’t really get away from this, as the soup can is Andy’s most recognizable image - so much so that people still place them on his grave in Pittsburgh!

Andy Warhol's grave, Bethel Park, PA (Photo by George Ondis)
Last month I asked my friend George, who lives in Pittsburgh, to take the cemetery photos you see here. I had visited St. John the Baptist Byzantine (note the cross on his headstone) Cemetery in Bethel Park, PA near George’s home about a decade ago, but could not locate my photos. I appreciate the fact that he made these photographs as they are much more interesting than my old snapshots -  the soup cans stand out so nicely in the snow! (Note the “Warhola” name on a stone behind Andy’s.) The Andy Warhol Museum, by the way, is located in Pittsburgh, where Andy was born and grew up. This is simply an amazing place to visit.

You can visit the DaVinci Art Alliance to see the exhibit until February 26, 2012. There’s also a book that can be purchased with an image of each artist’s work along with a paragraph explaining how the artist was influenced by Andy Warhol’s art. There are fascinating essays as well, by James and Madalen Warlola, Debra Miller, poet and Warhol Factory associate Gerard Malanga, and Warhol Superstar Ultraviolet.

"Vibrating Angels," by Ed Snyder
I had to write up a bit of an artist’s statement for my work in the book. Here’s the story behind “Vibrating Angels,” a “Warholized” rendition of a photograph I made years ago in the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans:

"Vibrating Angels" - Statement
It’s been said that religion may have been Andy’s only emotion. He began and ended his professional art career with religious iconography, heavily influenced by the piety of his mother Julia. People view my own work - photographs of cemetery statuary - as religious, though in large part it addresses society's desire to come to terms with death and dying. I’ve “Warholized” one of my own images in tribute to Andy’s final decade of work, in which he seemed to contemplate the promises of popular religion. As he said about his paintings in 1985-6, "Heaven and Hell are just one breath away!"

My second piece in the show is called “Cherubs,” which you see below. I created the 20 x 20 inch print in Photoshop with two images of cherubs – the one on the left is from Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the other from Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. Essentially, both “Cherubs” and  "Vibrating Angels" are “digital art, ” printed on watercolor paper, as opposed to being strictly photographs. I am reminded how Warhol turned his photographs into artistic presentations using various types of media – they were no longer actually ‘photographs.’

"Cherubs," by Ed Snyder

One of the most interesting panel discussion ideas discussed at the opening of “Warholized (The Silver Show),” was "DIY POP," an app you can purchase (for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) from the Andy Warhol Museum that allows you to “Warholize” a photograph! Kind of wish I knew of its availability before I spent hours manually creating my images in Photoshop! (With this marvelous app, you can make your own people photo-portraits look like Warhol's famous images of Mick Jagger and Jackie O!)

"Cherubs" - Statement
In the Bottom of My Garden of cemetery angel photography, there are a few slightly suspect cherubs. I never knew what to do with them. I thought back to Warhol’s early days (1950s) when he illustrated advertising campaigns with mischievous cherubs - basically black line drawings on white, with some color added. Andy had a playful and joyous side before he adopted the Pop Art stance of distance and evasiveness. His version of folk art angels made me think about ways to give life to my own black and white cherubs. If they’re lacking color, why not follow Andy’s lead and just add some? I also spray-painted the frame for Cherubs with silver, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his death.


A few weeks before I was to deliver my work to DaVinci for the show, and picked up my prints at a local art supply store, I experienced fifteen seconds of fame. The guy taking care of my transaction told me he bought one of my photographs at a show two years ago, as a gift for his brother. I’m always flattered when people remember such things. He asked about my two prints and I told him about the upcoming Warhol-themed show. He said, “My aunt went to elementary school with Andy. She used to ride the bus with him. The only thing she ever said about him was, ‘He was a  very strange bird.’

References and Further Reading:
The Warhola Family Album website
James Warhola's Mad Magazine illustrations 

"Garbage Pail Kids," by James Warhola (Peel Slowly and See...?)