Andy Warhol Posters – A Conversation with Paul Maréchal

 Andy Warhol:  The Complete Commissioned Posters 1964 - 1987 by Paul Marechal

Paul Maréchal has been collecting and cataloging Andy Warhol’s printed matter since 1996.  His first book Andy Warhol:  The Complete Comissioned Record Covers 1949 – 1987 was a catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s work designing record covers.  Since that book’s release, Maréchal has focused on Warhol’s work on commissioned posters, and his new book Andy Warhol:  The Complete Commissioned Posters 1964 – 1987 (Prestel Publishing 2014), is a chronological presentation of every Warhol poster ever commissioned for a specific event.  Whether it was for a rock band like the Rolling Stones, a politician like George McGovern, or an iconic brand like Perrier, each of the posters illustrate Warhol’s unique ability to combine fine art with graphic design.  We spoke to Paul Maréchal about Warhol’s posters and in particular, how he created them for his various clients in the music business.

Music Lit 101:   Paul, this is the second book you have published cataloging the graphic design work of Andy Warhol.  What about Warhol do you think made him capable of jumping so easily from fine art to graphic design?

Paul Maréchal:  Warhol never made a distinction between commercial art and fine arts. This was his strength: the work had to be good for whatever purpose it was intended for. If it was good enough in terms of fine art it was also good for so-called commercial art. When it’s good, it’s good and the purpose of art is served. For Warhol, commercial art shouldn’t be a down grade, art with less meaning, impact or quality. Warhol was also successful in teaching that concept to Keith Haring who considered him his mentor. Besides, record covers also are graphic design so the book on posters is just in continuity with my studies on Warhol’s printed matter…

The challenge in record cover art is to draw the music. With posters it is the artist’s creation that has to become one with the product.

Music Lit 101:  In your opening introductory essay you discuss the history of poster art and compare Warhol’s work to that of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Keith Haring.  What about posters makes them works of art?

Paul:  Poster art is about creating an original work of art with the purpose of making a poster. What I call a “poster-poster” is just a poster reproducing a work of art that was not created for that purpose. European poster collectors have known that distinction for a very long time, maybe because poster art was born in Europe in the late 19th Century and the masters of the genre were there.  It took a little longer in America. The best posters are the ones [that] deliver an immediate impact on the passerby, who has little time to decipher or ponder its meaning. Poster art is the art of creating an impact in peoples’ mind, delivering the message in an efficient way, in a matter of seconds, contrary to Fine Arts where meditation and contemplation are welcome. Posters are always created to fulfill one of these four categories; to promote an event, a cause, a product, or for fundraising. It’s interesting to see how Warhol and Haring have brought back the art in posters, exactly like Toulouse Lautrec, Jules Chéret, and many other artists did in the late 19th century.

Music Lit 101:  Warhol had a long relationship with the music industry.  What influence do you think the bands he worked with, and enjoyed, had on his art?

Paul:  The impact his creation had on their fan base. As a music star, you want your musical creation to be associated with the best collaborators, be it for the music, but also with the packaging i.e. the record sleeve, and that also extends to the promotional poster.  Interestingly enough, most of Warhol posters bear his signature which is never the case with his paintings, which he signed discreetly on the reverse. Clearly, sponsors wanted to capitalize on Warhol’s fame as an artist.

Music Lit 101:  In your new book you discuss several posters that Warhol created for rock, pop and soul acts as diverse as The Rolling Stones, Debbie Harry, Aretha Franklin, and the Japanese band Rats & Star.  Was this a natural extension of his having been commissioned to design album covers for these bands as well?

Paul:  Yes, except for Michael Jackson and the Beatles.  But Warhol couldn’t resist doing posters for such legends, and certainly they were already legends at the time. It certainly has to do with this fascination for celebrity.  Warhol had talent and a desire [to capture that celebrity] that made him accept such commissions, no doubt about that. Great works of art are born when talent and desire meet.

Music Lit 101:  Was Warhol contracted by a band’s record label or did he tend to only work for bands he knew personally?

Paul:  He worked for both people he knew and didn’t know. He knew Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Blondie very well, but he also did posters for Aretha Franklin and the Japanese band Rats & Star who he didn’t know at all. In the course of my research, I have noticed that Warhol’s portraits generally – but not always- have stronger artistic qualities when he knew the models. But then again, when you look at the Rats & Star poster, the band members portraits are stunningly good even though he didn’t know them. Inspiration is the key, I guess.

"The Beatles" Dustcover by Andy Warhol

Music Lit 101:  Warhol created a removable undercover dust jacket for Geoffrey Stokes’ 1980 monograph “The Beatles.”  How did that project come about and can you explain why this was such a unique project?

Paul:  One of Warhol’s friend, Bea Feitler, whom he knew in the days when he was working for Harper’s Bazaar in the very early 1960s, later became [the] art director for Time Books. She was doing Stoke’s monography on the Beatles. They commissioned the cover to Warhol. Feitler came with idea of doing a double jacket: one with the title and regular writing but she wanted to add another jacket underneath that would be like a poster people could frame, with Warhol’s creation of the quadruple Beatles portrait alone without text, blurbs, etc… This poster is very interesting because, like the Velvet Underground peelable banana record cover or the working zipper on the “Sticky Fingers album [cover], or the John Cale “The Academy in Peril” album [cover], which I labelled “discovery albums” because you have to remove the first cover by peeling, unzipping or opening it, this Warhol poster needs some handling from the owner to be discovered.

Music Lit 101:  You discuss an interesting theory regarding the inspiration for the famous “biting session” photographs that Warhol shot for use on the cover art and an exclusive album release poster for The Rolling Stones’ “Love You Live.”  Can you speak to that?

Paul:  Although the Stones never revealed their inspiration for that poster and cover, it is extremely likely that they were inspired by the famous 1972 plane crash in the Andes in which 14 of the 16 Chilean soccer team players who survived had to eat their companions flesh to survive. There were 45 passengers on board, most were soccer team players. The crash was the object of a film in 1976, a year before the Stones’ album was released, and two books published in two editions each [were released as well.] So clearly, this rare documented case of cannibalism for survival resonated in people’s mind at the time. The Stones will probably never reveal their source of inspiration for the obvious reason that it doesn’t make sense to be inspired by such a dramatic event, but it nonetheless produced a very good and interesting cover and poster concept.

Music Lit 101:  Warhol supposedly did not like the finished cover design of “Love You Live.”  Why?

Paul:  Because it is Mick Jagger’s handwriting on both the poster and the record cover and Warhol thought he wrote so big. He thought Jagger had ruined the record and that the kids would have had a real work of art in their hands if he hadn’t ruined it by writing so big.  Warhol always favored minimal lettering in his creations, something you can clearly see when looking at his album covers; you realize that the more control he had on the production the less cumbersome the lettering.

Music Lit 101:  His promotional poster for Diana Ross’ 1982 album “Silk Electric” utilized serialization, a technique that was recurring theme in Warhol’s work.  What about serialization did Warhol find so interesting?

Paul:  Serialization is an important concept in Warhol’s work: to him, it was a reflection of daily life. He repeated images on his paintings but always with a slight variation for each, translating the fact that for Warhol, we repeat the same gestures over and over again each day, but always in a different context. In that sense the Diana Ross poster is the closest to his paintings, because of his use of serialization, a concept which was already present on the record cover except that is more visible on the poster because you get to see the four portraits side by side. It is also a very rare one because it was intended for in-store promotion in record stores.

Michael Jackson - Time Magazine Poster - By Andy Warhol

Music Lit 101:  Warhol also worked on a project involving another Pop/R&B icon, Michael Jackson.  Can you tell us a little about that project and why he chose to take that commission?

Paul:  In those days, Time magazine creative team, known as ABC was composed of Boris Artzybasheff, Ernest Hamlin Baker and Boris Chaliapin who worked under art director Rudolph Hogland. They recruited the most distinguished illustrators and painters for the Time covers, such as Marc Chagall, Andrew Wyeth and…Warhol! So Warhol was actually recruited by his peers, his colleagues, artists like him. It certainly came as a great satisfaction for Warhol. He knew Jackson from having met him at least three times.

Music Lit 101:  In addition to Warhol’s work on music-related posters, your book also contains work he did for a wide array of subjects including cultural events, politicians, films and iconic brands.  How did Warhol’s work on these types of posters elevate or differentiate them from more traditional posters of this type?

Paul:  The greatest difficulty for an artist doing a poster is to make his creation and the product become one. The work has to underline the nature of the product without graphic pyrotechnics or overabundance of details. For instance, Warhol designed two Perrier mineral water posters which just show Perrier bottles floating. Its purity of design enhanced with two colors only reflects the simplicity of the product itself: water. The floating bottles look as if they were buoyed by the bubbles within and were themselves lighter than air.

Absolut Poster by Andy Warhol

Music Lit 101:  12. To me the iconic posters he created for beverage brands like Absolut and Perrier elevate those products to an almost rock star status. Do you think that was Warhol’s intention or just the natural power of his art and an extension of his status as an arbiter of pop culture?

Paul:  I think Warhol deeply enjoyed the challenge poster commissions would pose to him, as if he was constantly asking himself: “How can I create a work of art without that commercial look, but a work of art that would nonetheless be relevant to use in a commercial context”. This is what poster art meant to Warhol.

Music Lit 101:  In the book you include some posters that Warhol collaborated with other artists on for the Montreux Jazz Festival, and a benefit for “Rain Dance: A Benefit For The African Emergency Relief Fund – 1985.” Did Warhol enjoy collaborating with other artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and Yoko Ono?

Paul:  Warhol was a natural in terms of collaboration. Just think of his Factory, his infamous studio. At its peak, some 100 people worked for him. Even before, when he was a so-called “commercial artist” he hired assistants and used his mother’s skills in calligraphy. That’s because he didn’t like his own handwriting.  Warhol knew how to surround himself with creative people and enhance their ideas and most importantly make them into a work of art. He was also a filmmaker and this is the quintessential [collaborative] art form: it’s all about the work of a crew coming together. His work, in that sense, was a true reflection of his times.  Poster art is also a team work: Warhol was challenged by commissions. Some artists are not turned on by commissions. They prefer to do their own work and sort of “impose” them on people.

Music Lit 101:  Do you think Warhol’s poster art extended his artistic vision to a greater audience? And if so, was that a conscious decision or merely a byproduct of his willingness to do graphic design work?

Paul:  The major contribution my book will hopefully have is to underline Warhol’s marketing genius. As an artist his image and his works were greatly marketed throughout his career, but with this book, it is the first time one can see Warhol’s ability to market product, events or causes. Warhol posters certainly are the total embodiment of his vision of making no distinction between commercial art and the fine arts.

Music Lit 101:  What current poster artists do you think were inspired by Warhol, and how do you think his designs will be viewed by future generations as digital art and media continues to grow?

Paul:  I don’t get to see much poster art these days. We live in such a world with more and more T.V. screens! They are everywhere and it seems that they are gradually replacing posters. It’s so sad because the abundance of images they feed people with have less and less art in them. It’s more about the plain, direct facts, no time to decipher or ponder the content. They are unimaginative and they don’t have that artistic twist that makes people remember the content better. Computer art, digital art is more interesting and promising as a new media. Warhol was himself a pioneer of digital art. It was actually because of Steve Jobs, who was once invited to Sean Lennon’s birthday party. He brought little Sean, who turned nine at the time, a computer, an Amiga 1000 if I remember correctly, with a program to create images. It fascinated Warhol who started playing with the young Sean Lennon on his birthday-gift-computer! Warhol got acquainted with the computer, and even did a public performance with an Amiga computer at Madison Square Garden in 1985. Before the show, one Amiga technician taught him how to use it better. Warhol saw computer art as a way of avoiding getting his hands dirty with paint and brushes. At one point during the session, because he had difficulty handling the mouse, he asked the technician if he could have a pen to trace his work. He had a need for something that was not invented yet: the digital pen!


To find out more about Andy Warhol’s Commissioned Posters you can –

Order a copy of “Andy Warhol:  The Complete Commissioned Posters 1964 – 1987”

Follow the Andy Warhol Museum on Twitter

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