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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol. Written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company. Raincoast, 2011. $19.50 ages

"The streets of New York were a world away from the hillside alleys where Andy grew up. Where his immigrant parents and two brothers worked hard just to get by. The whole family lived in just two rooms, no indoor toilet, and only one bed for three boys."

"Small. Smart. Shy."

While I regularly recognize Andy Warhol's work, I have rarely read much about him. I certainly had no idea about his life as a child. In this very accessible picture book biography, Bonnie Christensen has changed that for me. Now I know about his early life, his long bout of bedridden illness and the nurturing nature of his mother. She saw and understood what a uniquely talented son she had. She didn't force him to attend school:

"On his first day of school a girl hit him. Andy cried and refused to go back. At home he and his mother drew pictures of each other and the family cat.

Two years later, at six, Andy started a new school. His teachers liked him and recognized his talent for drawing."

Following his illness, Andy was teased and bullied for being different. Through it all, Andy drew. He attended art classes and was encouraged by teachers who recognized his innate talents. He drew what he saw in his neighborhood, the print media, at his church. In college he made a very important personal discovery:

"...paintings aren't just decoration. Paintings can make people mad, make them ask questions, make them see things differently."

It is tremendously interesting to have brief looks at the various influential periods in Andy Warhol's life. The author describes a thirty year period from his childhood in Pittsburgh to the idolatry of the 1960s when many people longed to spend time with him, to have him paint them, to collect his iconic artwork. He was the 'Prince of Pop, King of Cool' to so many. He was absorbed by everything around him...always drawing, always looking at the world with his own strong sense of style and vision.

An author's note and a time line will help readers understand his rise from 'rags to riches', while always remaining the shy, smart, soft-spoken artist. Bonnie Christensen creates textured illustrations using oils to give her readers a feel for the art that had a huge impact on the world. The photo collages that background these rich oils help us to see the man who was Andy Warhol. In the end, he found the fame he so ardently sought.

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