|Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews|
James Warhola. Uncle Andy's.
Illustrated by James Warhola.
G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2003.
First, a little personal artistic opinion. I have never been a huge fan of Andy Warhol's work. I like the Marilyn Monroe lithographs but never understood the Campbell's Soup Cans. I appreciate the value of pop culture, I really love pop culture actually, but I don't think that it can be elevated to high artistic value so easily. This might make me a snob, or maybe even the reverse, I'm not sure. But it's the baggage I was carrying around in my head when I first saw Uncle Andy's on the shelf at the local bookstore. I was intrigued enough by the question of just what Andy Warhol's family might be like to open it up and was immediately hooked. Think what you will of Warhol's art, but his creative spark and wonderful relatives are definitely worth reading about.
The book's plot is simple: in 1962 Jamie Warhola, his parents and five of his siblings decide to go visit their father's brother and mother in New York City. Warhola's father is a junk man out in the Pennsylvania countryside and young Jamie is growing up in a yard that is literally waist deep with artistic possibilities. One day his father announces it is time to visit Bubba and Uncle Andy and soon the family is all loaded into the station wagon and on their way for another surprise visit.
What follows is description of Warhol's house and art as seen through the eyes of young Jamie. He sleeps in a room surrounded by towers of soup boxes that have been constructed and painted by his uncle. The artist himself is shown at his drafting table, painting one of his soup can pictures while Elvis and Marilyn stand stacked up against the walls along with canvas portrayals of Brillo soap pad labels and dollar bills. The rooms of Uncle Andy's townhouse are packed full of all sorts of neat things and Jamie ends up helping his uncle on his paint-by-number sailboat painting while the rest of the family contributes to the household in a myriad of other ways (including taking care of Warhol's twenty-five cats!).
When the Warholas decide it is time to leave, Uncle Andy has gifts for everyone, including a box of art supplies for Jamie. After returning home he makes an art studio in his room, convinced now that art is something that is all around us all of the time. As he ultimately became an illustrator the lesson taught by his Uncle Andy's life clearly had a huge positive impact on Jamie.
In many ways this picture book is a love letter from nephew to uncle, written to provide a sweet and personal glimpse into the life of an American icon. In retrospect, knowing that Andy Warhol's brother brought him interesting finds from the junkyard explains a lot as to why he was able to envision art in the most unusual of places; it was a concept the entire family embraced. These were people who believed that although Warhol's art might be odd or unusual, it was still something to be encouraged; it still was fantastic.
Warhola's story and artwork are first rate, and although this book will appeal most to budding artists, it is a first rate picture book for any young child. The story is sweet and fun and the artwork is excellent with all the magic and wonder of Andy Warhol's home and studio clearly portrayed. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this picture book and how it sparked my interest in Warhol. He was a visionary, and even though I might be confused by that vision it does not diminish the bravery of his artistic insight. Because he saw the world a different way, Andy Warhol made the world a deeper and richer place through his artistic contribution. How utterly cool that his story is one of family support and love and that he was able to pass on that support to his young nephew. Art is a good and wonderful thing, and Uncle Andy's expresses that truth beautifully.