Andy Warhol loved cats. He and his mother, Julia, lived with cats throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s in New York City. In 1954 Andy published a book titled 25 Cats Name[d] Sam and One Blue Pussy. It was a series of cat portraits done with his blotted line technique and colored with Dr. Martin’s ink washes. All the cats were named Sam except for the cat on the last page -- it is the blue pussy. He also published a book of Julia’s drawings of her cat, Hester, titled, Holy Cats by Andy Warhol’s Mother. Andy’s cat drawings are more refined than his mother’s pen and ink drawings of her cat and strange angels. Julia’s book, unlike Andy’s, has a short narrative story. It is about Hester going to pussy heaven and encountering angels and other cats. Looking at these books one can easily sense they loved their cats.
In the early 1970’s the era of Andy’s cats ends and Andy’s dogs begins. In 1973 Jed Johnson, Andy’s boyfriend, convinced him they should get a dog. Through a friend’s recommendation, Jed decided on a dark brown, shorthaired dachshund puppy. Jed and Andy named him Archie. It was definitely the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Andy and Jed adored Archie. Andy took Archie to his studio, to art openings, and Ballato’s Restaurant on Houston Street. The wife of the owner, John Ballato, had a toy poodle named Muffy and Andy was encouraged to bring Archie so he could be Muffy’s companion. I do not remember the dogs ever playing together because Archie was always on Andy’s lap, eating bits of food that he was handed. Archie was carefully hidden under Andy’s napkin just case a restaurant health inspector would happen to come by. John’s restaurant was very exclusive and he only allowed people he knew and liked to sit at one of his tables for lunch or dinner. It was a hangout for the emerging art world, those who were settling into New York City’s SoHo area in the early 1970’s. Andy was so attached to Archie that he would not travel to London because he could not bare leaving Archie at home or in quarantine for six months. Archie became Andy’s alter ego. Andy would hold Archie when being photographed by the press and would deflect questions to him that he did not want to answer. The artist Jamie Wyeth did a portrait of Andy with Archie being held under Andy’s arm looking like the sophisticated and regal dog that he was.
Two or three years after getting Archie, Andy and Jed got a second dachshund, this time a light brown, shorthaired puppy they named Amos. Unlike Archie who enjoyed the company of people and was very social, Amos was more like a regular dog. Archie and Amos kept each other entertained in Andy’s townhouse barking and chasing each other. Archie’s days of going out on the town with Andy ended.
Andy returned to drawing and painting pets in 1976 when art collector and newsprint baron Peter Brant commissioned him to paint his beloved cocker spaniel named Ginger. Peter was a business partner at the time in Andy’s magazine, Interview, so he was often around the Warhol studio. Andy not only made paintings of Ginger but drawings as well. While Andy was working on this commission, Fred Hughes, Andy’s friend and business manager, had a meeting with Peter about an exhibition idea. Peter thought Andy should do a whole series of cat and dog paintings and drawings. Andy liked the idea because it could open a new area for commission portraits. He already had two dog models, Archie and Amos, with which to work; now Andy needed a cat to photograph. He asked Ronnie Cutrone, his art assistant, to find a taxidermist. I went along with Ronnie to help pick out a cat and other animals. We came back with a fox that looked like a rabid dog and a stuffed tabby cat.
Andy’s stuffed Great Dane that we used as a “guard dog” became another model. It stood near the bulletproof door at 860 Broadway, which made messengers jump as they looked through the small glass window. The first cat and dogs Andy photographed for the painting series were all stuffed animals. There was no problem posing these animals and keeping them still. Andy was able to photograph other living cats and dogs, like Broadway the cat and a wild, little dog named Danger. The paintings of the stuffed cat are spooky and macabre, reminiscent of still-life painting tableaus from the nineteenth-century. The paintings of Danger, a Brussels Griffin, are the craziest of the dog paintings in this series. Andy painted the canvas with a paintbrush but also used his fingers to outline the head, eyes, and nose before silk screening, making this dog look like no other. This wonderful creature was nicknamed by the art handlers at the Andy Warhol Foundation, “cat-dog”. There may well be only two versions of this dog portrait: the one in this exhibition and another that is at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
The drawings from this series are vibrant and full of energy. The expressions on the faces of the (living) dogs are telling of the personalities of these animals--at least while they were in Andy’s studio and under his gaze. Andy’s undulating and wiggling graphite lines make the drawings seem like they were given an electrical charge.
Peter Brant arranged to have the series of paintings and drawings shown in two galleries, one in New York City and one in London. Arno Schefler had the gallery in New York and the title of his exhibition was Andy Warhol: Animals from May 25 until June 11, 1976. In London the Mayor Gallery opened with paintings and drawings from June 29 until August 13, 1976 with the title of Cats & Dogs by Andy Warhol. Later, in January of 1977 during the inauguration of Andy’s friend, President Jimmy Carter, James Mayor arranged for Andy and Fred Hughes to fly to Kuwait for the opening of the exhibition Cats and Dogs which also included other Andy Warhol artwork such as print portfolios like Campbell Soup Cans and Flowers.
Andy certainly recognized who was man’s best friend.
-- Vincent Fremont