In 1986 a young Jeremy Deller took up an invitation from Andy Warhol to hang out at the artist’s eponymous Factory. Deller was an art history graduate, bumping into Warhol at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, where The Turner Prize winning artist was approached by one of Warhol’s entourage. The visit remained entirely professional, and the result of Deller’s Factory foray would have a pivotal effect on the artist’s creative perspective, and future career – even though at one point he was groped by the famous Pop artist. Now, Jeremy Deller has curated an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in which he places Warhol alongside another of his heroes; that of the English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris.
Jeremy Deller was kind enough to give Artlyst a tour of the exhibition, and talks in this final part of a three part conversation about the decision to juxtapose the work of, what would at first, appear to be two quite disparate artists.
“The second room in the exhibition is called ‘The Factory As It Might Be’ which is the title of an essay by William Morris, how the work was actually made is essential to both of these artists regarding their world view. In a sense they both re-imagined the world through production, and how they thought the world could be. They wanted to set an example in how they organised themselves, and the making of work. For Warhol it was to create this incredible environment – in the early Factory at least – where people would come by and hang out, make work with him and observe things, and he would observe people. In a way it would become a template for how tech companies now organise themselves: play areas, and work areas, so that you play hard – and you work hard – all set in the same environment. This is something that Warhol was definitely interested in – this relationship between work and play – or leisure.
Morris too set up his studio system – his factories – on a craftsmen-based system; based on Medieval art, which he saw as an ideal view of the world, where you got satisfaction from your work, and made beautiful things – all at the same time. This is something that we still aspire to – or are still trying to work out how to do. So how they made work was a political act essentially; and when you think of the factory it’s still the coolest thing in the world, I don’t think anybody has really superseded that in what is ‘cool’ and what is great. Of course both men were businessmen, both had their own business empire’s, which still exist and are still very healthy – and Morris was very unapologetic about that – how can you be? – with your name above a shop door on Oxford Street – so he wasn’t afraid of business, he wanted to show a different version of it, to set an example and sell beautiful things by experimenting with new forms. Both artists had brands.
The exhibition re-positions Warhol, but also re-positions Morris: not to think of him as some sort of ‘fuddy-duddy’ but an individual who actually works as a very contemporary artist, that had a big career not constrained by genres, or different mediums. So this room is about that; about the dissemination of work: both of them were very interested in publishing and printing, not just in a mass-produced way, but also in a bespoke way. Both of them were very social artists, social beings who relied on people around them, to work with them and get the best out of them, both had a loyal group of acolytes – you can’t have eight jobs and do them all yourself – you have to rely on people. Both artist’s created ‘scenes’ around themselves, they are both essentially commercial artists.
Warhol was actually a very rich commercial artist in the 1950s; with his own house on the upper east side, which he shared with his mother, because he was working very hard as an illustrator. So hard in fact that his mother was doing all the writing for him. Warhol even thought ahead: what if his mother wasn’t around any more? I’ll need letraset of her handwriting! – which he had made just in case. Yet she didn’t die until way into the latter part of his second career as a fine artist.
Then we have Warhol’s magazine ‘Interview’. It’s not a shallow magazine – and this is the thing about Warhol: ‘Oh he’s so shallow!’ people think he’s so superficial – yet the magazine takes an in-depth look at people who aren’t celebrities, they are actually famous for a reason, because they were talented. Like, say Lennon, they were interesting people who are still relevant now. So this is Warhol and Morris in the commercial world propagating their work, spreading it, literally, around the world.
So the final room in the exhibition is a room about visual delight. So I thought of a word which I wish I had thought of a couple of weeks ago, as I’d have put it in all the publicity material; I think Morris and Warhol are both incredibly ‘promiscuous’ artists. Not in terms of their private lives, but in their wish to replicate and reproduce imagery, and try new versions of designs, and so on, and you see this in this room, which is about reproduction and repetition. I wanted it to be a room of visual delight – and a room where I didn’t have to explain much.
Warhol’s second most popular motif in his work after portraits are flowers. So he was making a lot of flower drawings, beautiful drawings in the 50s; and of course Morris is known for his love of nature, and writes a lot about his relationship to it, so it’s only natural that he would have so many working drawings on the subject, commercial art for his craftsmen to work from; intense drawings that for me are as beautiful as any Turner or Constable painting, and in a sense are about the same things, about the force of nature. I would argue that this is actually a political act: making things of extreme beauty during the Industrial Revolution, at a time where there is also a lot of extreme ugliness in the streets and in the cities. Morris would have known this: he travelled Britain giving talks constantly, and would have seen Britain at its absolute worst, and writes about it extensively. So these works are almost a repost to that version of Britain.
The Morris talks were illustrated with scrolls showing illustrations of his ideas of how nature can be used in decorative motifs, so we have leaves and flowers, and so on – in a sense they were ‘powerpoints’ of a sort for the Victorian age, because he never stopped travelling and giving talks – again very much a restless career in that respect. For Warhol – what excites me more than almost anything in this show – is having these huge Warhol camouflage works in this room, on William Morris wallpaper. So it’s a kind of sensory room I think.
Did Warhol know about Morris? Weirdly Warhol seemed to know about everything, but he had only one William Morris book in his collection – but he went to a school based on Morris’ principles for arts & crafts colleges, so in a sense he was part of the Morris legacy I would argue, and he would have been aware of things that were influenced by Morris including Modernism, which might seem strange when you look at Morris’ influences, but actually he is a very strong pre-modernist character. Warhol would have lived in Morris’ visual world – as we do – without even realising it.”
Read part one of Jeremy Deller’s tour here
Read part two of Jeremy Deller’s tour here
Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol – Modern Art Oxford – until 8 March 2015
Words: Jeremy Deller with Paul Black Photo: Artbrowzen © Artlyst 2014 photo Artlyst all rights reserved