Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

February 21, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 5:13 pm


poetry chapbook by BILL SHUTE

composed June-July 2016

edition of 41 hand-cut, hand-assembled copies

$6 US postpaid / $7 elsewhere postpaid

payment via paypal  to     django5722(at)yahoo(dot)com

please leave note with your order letting me know which items you are ordering and your mailing address…..thanks!


“He who can describe how

his heart is ablaze

is burning on a small pyre”

–PETRARCH, from Sonnet 137


APPROACHING THE APPARENT was composed here in San Antonio in June-July 2016, after returning from my “writing vacation” in central Louisiana, and in it I transpose some of the ideas found in the KENA UPANISHAD into contemporary Texas-based imagery and particulars.

Those of you who have been readers going back to TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY: THE LABOURS OF HERCULES IN THE LONE STAR STATE, published by Word Mechanics in 2005-2006, know that many of my earlier poems grew out of spiritual themes, but for me issues of that nature must be grounded in the particulars of the real world to have any real use or significance. As the old saying goes, anyone can be a monk in a monastery—however, can you find the transcendent in that abandoned strip mall or that dollar store (see Wyatt Doyle’s  book of photographs DOLLAR HALLOWEEN for a fine example of an artist who CAN) or that job bagging groceries or that noisy crime-ridden apartment complex you live in? When I have dealt with spiritual themes, I’ve tried to do that. You might also want to check out one of the pieces written during my Louisiana sojourn of May 2016, REVELATION IN SLOW MOTION (see bottom of page for that one), for another piece rooted in a spiritual text. Here’s part of APPROACHING THE APPARENT:


                          in the company of

                                     the older ladies

                                              poaching the eggs


                                         slipping me ice water

          while the boss checks her smart phone


                      their cavernous and smiling eyes

                                   have seen

                                            the void


                                      but refuse to  allow

                                                 the spark

                                                        to be extinguished




                                       the apparent



                                             on the pavement


                               on the western horizon

                                    heading out of El Paso


                         as  I



                                  they reside

                         in  my     space



KSE #368 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Find A Place To Die”

KSE #367 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Left-Handed Cherubs”

KSE #354 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Revelation In Slow Motion”

KSE #364 (poetry chapbook), LUIS CUAUHTEMOC BERRIOZABAL, “Make The Light Mine”

KSE #352 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Bridge on the Bayou”

As always, thank you for your support of KSE, as we now enter our 12th year, with over 365 releases of contemporary poetry and experimental music in that time, with a lot more planned for the coming months and years….

February 16, 2017

WHO KILLED JOHNNY R.? (Spain-Germany 1966), starring Lex Barker and Joachim Fuchsberger

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 8:20 pm


aka Wer kennt Johnny R.? ,  aka Una Bara (Coffin) per Ringo, aka 5000 $ für den Kopf von Johnny R.

Spain-Germany, released May 1966


with Marianne Koch, Sieghardt Rupp, Ralf Wolter

directed by  JOSE LUIS MADRID

review is of a widescreen Spanish-language print

WHO KILLED JOHNNY R.? is a Spanish-German co-production, made in the second half of 1965 and released in early 1966. Shot on location in Spain and with a largely Spanish crew, the German element (besides the financing from CCC) is most evident in the casting of the lead roles. What makes the film unique is that it pairs two actors who were major stars in popular film series in Germany, very different kinds of film series. Lex Barker was a huge box office draw in Germany  because of the many “Winnetou” films he made, based on the novels of legendary German adventure author Karl May, starring Barker as “Old Shatterhand.” Joachim Fuchsberger, on the other hand, had starred in many German “krimi” films based on the writings of the famous British mystery-crime author Edgar Wallace. He was often a detective or if not an actual detective or police inspector then someone who wound up tracking the criminals and solving the crimes in these eccentric and stylized crime films–he was the hero and the audience viewpoint character. Pairing Barker and Fuchsberger was a nice touch–the biggest star in German westerns with the biggest star in German crime films–and it made a kind of sense that the vehicle for the two would be a western, but a western with a crime/whodunit angle.

The film opens with a gunfight in a town square—-outlaw  Johnny Ringo and some of his men are holed up in a hotel, shooting it out with the local law. Ringo’s girlfriend Bea holds a white flag out the window and she is allowed to leave, at which point the gunfight resumes. Bea takes off to a local ranch where Ringo’s men have taken the family–mother and children–hostage while they hide out. We see some of Ringo’s men attempt to escape and then get shot. We never see Ringo, and the battle continues. Finally, it seems as though Ringo escapes and gets away on a horse. However, all of this is presented in a somewhat confusing way–the way a murder is depicted in a whodunit where we are supposed to see the crime but not who did it. At the ranch, some of the sheriff’s men approach, while simultaneously a lantern is knocked over and sets the house aflame. Some people escape, but the family who live at the ranch and were tied up and kept hostage DO NOT escape–they burn to death. Johnny Ringo is presumed dead, as a burned body is found wearing the ring his girlfriend gave him.


Some time later, Captain Conroy, the husband  (Sieghardt Rupp) of the wife who was killed in the fire–a military man who was away in service at the time–finds a kind of detective, Sam Dobie, who is played by Lex Barker, and tries to hire him to find Johnny Ringo. Barker explains that while the well-paying offer is tempting, most everyone believes Ringo is dead, so he can’t find someone who is dead. However, the Captain convinces him to simply find out what happened–if he’s dead and Barker can prove it, then that’s fine. He’ll still get paid. Barker then poses as a somewhat dude-like, somewhat milquetoast (!!!!) gun salesman, selling a new repeater pistol, travelling from town to town.

In one of those towns, he meets Clyde Smith (Joachim Fuchsberger), an unassuming fellow who has most recently worked as a miner, but who is an amazing shot. Because of that and some other circumstantial evidence, some people start believing that HE is Johnny Ringo. Barker hires him to do fast-shooting demonstrations from town to town to help sell the guns, and the pair then work as a team. However, people still pick fights with Smith, thinking he is Johnny Ringo, and Smith is clearly enjoying this situation and to some extent milking it along as he’s getting attention and respect that he’s never gotten before.

Clyde Smith is by far the most interesting and entertaining character in the film. Fuchsberger clearly is having a ball with the role, and he’s also got a real gift for comedy. His backstory is never explained, and he gives intentionally ambiguous answers to pretty much anything he’s asked.

During the period of their travelling, Barker is ostensibly still looking for Johnny Ringo, though he is very private about it and mentions it to no one (only he and the Captain know). Then Ringo’s old girlfriend Bea (Marianne Koch, like Rupp also someone who’d appeared in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) shows up in the town where the gun company Dobie and Smith are working for is located. At this point, the action heats up, the Captain re-connects with Sam Dobie, the suspense multiplies, and the film heads toward a climax (which I will not give away).


Director Jose Luis Madrid helmed 21 films in Spain between 1960-1984, but none of them ring a bell with me (and I’ve seen many Spanish productions of the period)–I would guess that few if any of those other films were available in English dubs or made available to US television. He’s certainly good with actors, and he uses the widescreen composition well. Except for some of the sets, the film does not really look like an Italian western….and it’s in a totally different universe from the Winnetou westerns which were shot on location in the former Yugoslavia and featured panoramic landscapes and sweeping western-themed symphonic musical scores. There’s no shortage of extras in crowd or bar scenes, and the dancehall and theater scenes are well-staged, so no doubt because of the stars involved with this, it had a somewhat higher budget than the usual Spanish western that would star someone like, say, James Philbrook or Robert Woods.


As a Lex Barker fan since childhood, I’d wanted to see this for decades. Barker’s German “Winnetou” westerns were shown often on TV in Denver, as were his Dr. Mabuse films and his non-Winnetou western with Pierre Brice, A PLACE CALLED GLORY, a favorite from my childhood. In the last few years, I’ve tried to track down Barker’s lesser-known European films in English-subtitled versions, and finally found a great-looking Spanish-language letterboxed print from ETC. You can also watch this same subtitled version (semi-full-screen, not fully letterboxed) on Amazon Prime…and if you are willing to watch it with ads, you can watch it FREE without even being an Amazon Prime member (I did to see what it looked like)! This was Barker’s final NON-WINNETOU western. He looks great in it, and for most of the film he’s pretending to be something of a greenhorn, so there are a few comedic sequences related to that…but there are other levels of artifice going on here too, and Barker manages to capture that complexity well. Although the film is not presently (to my knowledge) available in English, I can’t imagine any of Barker’s fans NOT enjoying seeing him in it…unless they can’t watch a film with subtitles.


The real treat here is Joachim Fuchsberger (right in the picture below, looking vaguely like Harry Morgan in that pose). He’s by far the most interesting and complex character in the film, and when the film is over, he’s still the one we know the least about. His comic timing is perfect, he can pose as bumbling when he needs to, but he can also make the people in the towns they visit believe that he is outlaw Johnny Ringo, even when on the surface his character is telling everyone who’ll listen that he IS NOT. Fuchsberger had a sixty-year (!) career in German cinema, playing a wide variety of roles. Many years ago I reviewed a 1972 children’s action-comedy film he starred in (SUPERBUG, SECRET AGENT/Ein Käfer gibt Vollgas–see poster at bottom) on the IMDB (mine is the review credited to DJANGO-1). He somewhat reminds me of the pre-Naked Gun Leslie Nielsen, when LN was working in dramas and crime films and TV guest shots, before he re-invented himself as a comic actor. Fuchsberger always has a certain charm and dynamic presence, so it’s not hard to see why he was so well-accepted as a leading man who could hold his own in the German crime films which had such an odd and off-putting post-Expressionist visual style and over-the-top musical scores by the likes of Peter Thomas. It takes an actor with gravitas to underplay his role in such a way that he is not overshadowed by the visuals and the music and the outlandish plot developments….and yet still commands attention and sympathy as the audience viewpoint character, the prism through which we view the proceedings.


While the film was released in Germany in 1966, it seems as though it took a while to get released in other countries, appearing 2-3 years later in most of them. That’s a shame because it’s enormously entertaining, and it’s not at all a typical Eurowestern. I’m not sure whether you will find the ending acceptable–the first time I saw it, I was quite dissatisfied, but the second and third time, it was clear that the seeds had been planted to justify the ending. However, some will find it a cheat.

Why is the film titled WHO KILLED JOHNNY R.? when the character is Johnny Ringo, and that is the kind of marketable character name you often see on Eurowesterns? A little IMDB research showed that at the same time this was released, there was another western titled KILL JOHNNY RINGO (see poster below), starring Brett Halsey, coming out, so presumably the change from RINGO to R was a last-minute change to avoid confusion.

If you are a fan of Eurowesterns and you’re looking for something different….if you are a Lex Barker fan and want to see him in a role that highlights him well in a film you probably have not seen….if you are a fan of the various German Edgar Wallace crime films and you want to see star Joachim Fuchsberger in a VERY different setting and see him in a complex role with a good amount of humor in it….you should check out WHO KILLER JOHNNY R.? In the US, you can watch it free on Amazon Prime. It’s not the widescreen version I am reviewing, but it’s a good print….and it’s free (at least now, when I write this, it is).


poster for the film KILL JOHNNY RINGO, starring Brett Halsey, also released in May 1966



poster for the 1972 film SUPERBUG, SECRET AGENT, starring Joachim Fuchsberger, which I reviewed in 2008 at the IMDB (it’s still there–read it if you’ve got insomnia some night)

February 5, 2017

‘L’invincibile cavaliere mascherato’ (Italy-France 1963), starring Pierre Brice, directed by Umberto Lenzi

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:36 pm

‘L’invincibile cavaliere mascherato’

aka Robin Hood in der Stadt des Todes, aka Invincible Masked Rider,

aka Terror of the Black Mask

(Italy-France 1963) directed by Umberto Lenzi, starring Pierre Brice


French actor PIERRE BRICE will always be best known for his portrayal in many German films as WINNETOU, the heroic Apache chief taken from the pages of the novels of Karl May, usually paired with Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand (though in a handful of films, with either Stewart Granger or Rod Cameron). These films made Brice a superstar, particularly in Germany–until his death in 2015, he was being invited to Winnetou fan festivals, and his 2004 photograph on his Wikipedia page shows him signing autographs at such an event. While the films may have typecast Brice to some extent, he was fortunate that with the make-up and long black wig he wore as Winnetou, when he was NOT in the role, he looked a bit different, and one’s first impression was not to shout out, “hey, that’s Winnetou.” He was featured quite well in the 1965 western (not a Winnetou film) A PLACE CALLED GLORY with his friend and co-star Lex Barker, a film that played widely in the US, distributed by Embassy Pictures–you can also hear him speaking his charming French-accented English in the American release of that film.

Brice also was quite the heartthrob in a number of non-Winnetou roles. Many years ago on VHS I saw him opposite Elke Sommer in the early Max Pecas erotic drama SWEET ECSTASY. This was distributed in the US by Audubon Films, which specialized in imported sex-oriented product in the early-to-mid 60’s, and Audubon issued a VHS tape of the film in the 90’s, which I highly recommend. One review of SWEET ECSTASY on a cult film website mentions Brice as resembling to some extent Alain Delon in Purple Noon, and that resemblance certainly did not hurt his getting those kind of roles. Below is a poster for the film under one of its alternate titles.


Another film that features him well (at least in its second half) is the one under review, ‘L’invincibile cavaliere mascherato,’  an Italian-French swashbuckler trading on the Zorro legend, with elements of Robin Hood thrown in,   which was made in 1963, after the success of the first Winnetou film, TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE.


This review is of the German release version of the film, titled ‘Robin Hood in der Stadt des Todes,’ which is literally translated as ROBIN HOOD IN THE CITY OF DEATH. As these 60’s European co-productions were shot MOS (without sound) and then dubbed into multiple languages, one could argue that any version is as good as another (although if Brice dubbed his own voice in the French version, that could well be the preferable one). Seeing a film starring a Frenchman, which is set in historical 17th Century Spain, and then has German coming out of the mouths of the cast is certainly a unique experience, though one gets used to it quickly and it gives the proceedings an interesting spin. Also, the German voice actors are well-suited to the characters they are voicing and do their best to “act” them–it’s not like some  English language voice tracks which sound like radio announcers cold-reading a script.


Brice is actually not featured much in the first half of the film, as the situation is being set up, the villains get to practice their villainy and build up audience hate, and Brice’s character, who is “called for” from a distant area, must travel to where the action is, creating a great deal of audience expectation.

Put simply, a number of regional power-brokers who are some kind of second-tier royalty jockey for power and influence in Spain. Don Gomez seems to be the most powerful, but he is old and somewhat feeble…and he also seems like a decent man, which does not get him  very far as he negotiates with the evil Don Luis. When he is killed, his daughter Carmencita will inherit his estate, and Don Luis can’t allow that to happen, so he re-instates an old informal promise between Don Luis and Don Gomez that she should marry Don Luis’s stepson Don Diego, whom he has not seen since childhood. He then basically takes Carmencita as a prisoner in his estate. He sends for Don Diego to come from a distant province, to fulfill that arranged-marriage promise.

However, at the same time, while they are waiting for Don Diego to arrive, a mysterious black-clad swashbuckling figure starts avenging the wrongs done by Don Luis, messing with his power structure, killing some of his enforcers, etc. Who might the mysterious figure be? Oh, and from the first frame of the film there is a subplot of a plague which is sweeping across Portugal and Spain, killing many and killing them quickly, so add that into the mix.


When Don Diego does arrive, he affects a kind of spoiled, wimpy pose–I’m somewhat reminded of Robert Lowery’s performance as Bruce Wayne in the 1949 serial BATMAN AND ROBIN (still my favorite Batman adaptation)–so no one will suspect that he’s the masked freedom-fighter and also so that he can work behind the scenes IN the palace….he even provides advice to his stepfather that plays upon Don Luis’s vanity  (so he’ll accept it) and is meant to weaken things even further. Then you have Carmencita falling in love with the masked avenger, who ironically is the man she is betrothed to marry and whom she considers to be a foppish coward she is not in love with, although she does think he’s a decent fellow.

Brice’s performance as the vain and cowardly Don Diego is quite funny and he affects many little “bits of business” (as Laurel and Hardy called them) to both convince the other characters that he is harmless and, as an actor, to call attention to himself when he is not the focus of the action in a particular scene. It’s always interesting to watch an actor play a character who is posing as someone else….and when the film is over and we realize that Brice’s character was not actually Don Diego (!!!), it adds a third level to this masquerade. Throughout the film Brice winds up playing a few different characters, though all in the same body (you’ll see what I mean when you watch it–I don’t want to give too many spoilers), and he handles all convincingly. He can make you laugh as the foppish Don Diego, he can thrill you as the masked cavalier, and he can inspire you in his final and real persona. I also noticed that in the climactic fight sequence Brice is doing some of his own stunt work, including jumping onto tables while fighting without missing a beat. Bravo!

And speaking of masquerades, the climactic scene of the film takes place at a Masquerade Ball, which is the perfect setting for a film whose protagonist is a masked avenger. As everyone who was abused by the evil Don Luis joins with Brice to give the Don his fitting  comeuppance, the audience feels a great sense of satisfaction….also, the climactic swordfight at the ball is very well choreographed, very well shot, and shows the attention to detail in action scenes which director Umberto Lenzi always tried to bring to this crime and action films (when he could–in some of his later films for Italian TV he was hampered by quick shoots and low budgets).

Where do you begin with director Umberto Lenzi? Double-checking his IMDB credits to remind myself of films I’ve forgotten, I see that I’ve already written about one of his films on this blog: CATHERINE THE GREAT, starring Hildegarde Knef (just use the search box here to find that review). I’ve seen probably 25 of his films, ranging from the early 60’s historical ones (Queen of the Seas) to peplum (Messalina vs the Son of Hercules, with Richard Harrison) to Eurospy (008:Operation Exterminate) to Spaghetti Westerns (Pistol for a Hundred Coffins, with Peter Lee Lawrence and John Ireland), to the exciting series of erotic thrillers made with star Carroll Baker, to war films (Desert Commandos, with Ken Clark, where the Germans are the heroes!), to Giallos (Seven Blood Stained Orchids) to some of the greatest 70s Eurocrime films (Gang War In Milan, Syndicate Sadists, Almost Human, Violent Naples, and the amazing The Cynic, The Rat, and The Fist), and finally the Italian Cannibal genre. He drifted into Italian TV movies in the 80’s and early 90’s, and many of those wound up on video overseas, very much welcomed by his many fans. He always had excellent taste in actors and was probably a good actor’s director, considering the performances he got out of people. Look up my IMDB review of MEAN TRICKS (1992), his last film—-a low-budget crime film shot in the Caribbean and starring CHARLES NAPIER (!!!) who is given free rein to create a character who should be in the “renegade badass cop” hall of fame (it’s almost on the same level as Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans)—-and you’ll see that the master, Umberto Lenzi, did not lose his panache and his ability to create a fast-moving, entertaining product even when working in the reduced circumstances of Italian TV movies. ‘L’invincibile cavaliere mascherato’ is a solid accomplishment, a film that still entertains and excites 50+ years after its creation, and a proud entry in the Lenzi filmography.

Interestingly, while this is clearly a Zorro knock-off, the German dialogue (and the German release title) mentions Robin Hood, and in the final scene after the swordfight, he’s dressed somewhat like Robin Hood and mentions going back to his “homeland.”


Is this a classic? Does it need to be? What it is…is a solid, colorful, fast-moving, competently made European co-production genre-film with many nice touches and with a charismatic lead actor in a role that will be new to many who are mostly familiar with his performances as Winnetou. The locations are atmospheric, the sets capture the period well enough for the non-specialist, the supporting cast is impressive. This German-dubbed version is a beautiful letterboxed copy, so I could take in all the detail and the scope of the compositions.

The film is not hard to find in pan and scan English-language versions, and various versions surface from time to time on You Tube. With both Pierre Brice and Umberto Lenzi having many fans around the world, it’s a lesser-known gem perfect for that rainy night or leisurely Sunday afternoon….also, perfect 3 a.m. viewing for any night shift security guards out there (as I once was). I can easily imagine watching this again in a few months (I’m fairly sure I saw the pan-and-scan American TV version of Terror of the Black Mask back in the 1980’s).

February 4, 2017

ANDY WARHOL: THE LIFE YEARS, 1949-1959 (Hirmer Verlag)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 4:05 pm


published by Hirmer Verlag (Germany)

with essays by Alexandra Barcal, Olaf Kunde, Paul Tanner

bi-lingual, with text in both English and German


One exciting by-product of the posthumous popularity of Andy Warhol in the last few decades has been the publishing boom related to All Things Warhol….and also the many international exhibitions taken from Warhol’s massive body of work.

As with the subjects of religion and sex, both of which were of great interest to the artist, in life and in the work, Warhol and his art have inspired both awful writing and analysis and transcendent writing and analysis. Similarly, there have been unimaginative exhibitions, well-done exhibitions aimed at a general audience, thematic exhibitions which choose work from a wide variety of styles and periods (the recent Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body show at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh being a good example of that), and what for me is the most exciting kind of exhibition (or exhibition catalog, since I cannot travel to Europe or Japan very easily), the deep study of a limited aspect of Warhol’s work, where a lot of little-known works are presented, and we are encouraged to “get inside” the creative process.


Examples of that would include the Warhol Liz book, the Ladies and Gentlemen collection (Skarstedt Gallery), and the amazing auction catalogs such as Christie’s Andy Warhol Coca-Cola 1962, where an entire book is devoted to numerous facets and perspectives and the backstory on ONE painting. For me, these are the most illuminating of the entryways into Warhol’s work.


While Warhol is universally known, I would claim that his WORK is not adequately known. As someone who has been following Warhol’s work for 40+ years now, I am discovering not just new individual works each year, but new bodies of work, or groups of related works. It’s exciting and exhilarating, to say the least, for this to happen with an artist who has been dead for 30 years, but it’s Warhol’s compulsive workaholic nature that is responsible for him investigating a certain motif and then producing dozens and dozens of variations on it. I would make the analogy of a variorum edition of an author’s work or the large edition of Eliot’s The Waste Land which shows each step in the editing process, but these Warhol artworks, often large artworks, have such a commanding presence and dominate whatever room they are in so much that they are truly on a more powerful physical level than any author’s editing notes.


I’m old enough to remember when Warhol could not get arrested in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The art world and the hipsters had turned against him. I loved his appearance on The Love Boat and his TV ad for Braniff Airlines, but that totally alienated many, as did his aggressive marketing of the celebrity portraits, including to the families of overseas dictators. Warhol did not have to worry about the art world breathing down his neck in the late 70’s and early 80’s–they didn’t care much anymore. He created large and diverse bodies of related works, and many of these did not even get an exhibition showing during his lifetime, and those that did get exposure largely got it overseas. With income flowing in, Warhol had the freedom to paint what he wanted in the style he wanted, to experiment with a technique or a motif that interested him and to try many different permutations of that technique or motif until he felt he had finished his investigation of that area and could move on to something else. Late-period Warhol is still severely underrated, and there are dozens and dozens of oversized art books devoted to it…some of which can still be found cheap at used bookstores in major cities (or college towns) with a good selection of art books. Rather than listen to me talking about it, why not go buy one yourself–it speaks far more eloquently than I can, and it will keep your interest over the years a lot longer!


Another period of Warhol’s work which is lesser-known and much underrated is his pre-1960 work, the commercial art and the private drawings. Again, a good number of books have presented many many unknown-to-the-public works, the majority of them never exhibited. For the commercial art, the ultimate collection–one you’ll treasure and find new delights in for a lifetime–is ANDY WARHOL: THE COMPLETE COMMISSIONED MAGAZINE WORK, assembled and contextualized by Paul Marechal (thank you, Mr. Marechal for taking on such a massive task–the results are incredibly rewarding to those who love Warhol’s WORK).


A related work, also assembled and curated by Marechal, is ANDY WARHOL: THE COMPLETE COMMISSIONED POSTERS, many of which come from his late period. I remember seeing some of these when they initially appeared (and neatly removing the pages of magazines that contained these ads), and they still can stop the viewers in their tracks today. These two collections are highly recommended (the poster book is the cheaper of the two, but the commissioned magazine work one is exhaustive and massive and a great buy even at its expensive price) and will provide years of pleasure.


Getting back to Warhol’s 1950’s pre-Pop drawings and to the book under review today, we have pioneering Warhol authority Daniel Blau to thank for the concept of ANDY WARHOL: THE LIFE YEARS and for the exhaustive research within Warhol’s archive AND within hundreds of copies of LIFE magazine from the 1950’s.

When I first saw this book announced, I thought to myself, “hmmm, I did not know that Warhol worked for LIFE extensively in the 1950’s,” and of course, he did not. What he did do was to use photographs from LIFE, during its classic 1950’s heyday, as a starting point for practice drawings as he was developing his signature drawing and then blotted-line style. A number of those drawings survive…and are reproduced in this book in a size large enough to study his lines close-up. That in itself would be enough, but evidently, Mr. Blau took the time to go through every LIFE magazine of the era and find the exact photographs and the exact advertisements that Warhol used to inspire these informal (who’s to say what’s “formal” and “informal”?) drawings….and the drawings and the LIFE pieces are often presented SIDE BY SIDE. Of course, if you care about such things, this book is a revelation.

In addition to the artworks, there are a number of essays which provide historical context, nuts-and-bolts explanations of Warhol’s technique (the essay  breaking down the essential differences between monotype, Warhol’s blotted line style, and klecksography is quite eye-opening—-especially because many of us are familiar with the monotypes of Matisse and Castiglione, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing examples of both up-close and in-person), a brilliant deconstruction of the audience and culture reflected in 1950’s LIFE, and a very important essay by Alexandra Barcal entitled “The Art of Reduction, or What’s In A Picture: On the Use of Photographic Imagery in the Early Drawings of Andy Warhol.” With photography providing a catalyst for much of Warhol’s work in ANY era, this essay provides an insightful explanation of a process that many students of Warhol have intuited but not had spelled out for us. Works from many Warhol periods–including the Campbell’s soup cans and the Brillo boxes, to cite two of his best-known motifs–rarely if ever attempt to replicate the photograph. There is a selective and reductive process going on–just look at a real Brillo box and then one of the Brillo sculptures, or a real Campbell’s soup can and then one of the paintings. It’s quite different, and there’s a consistency and a method to that difference. The roots of that selection and reduction, and then the alchemical transmutation of those elements into art through the medium of Mr. Andy Warhol—-the beginnings of that fascinating process can be found in these drawings inspired by images in LIFE Magazine. For that reason alone, this is an essential book in the Warhol canon. In addition, though, it’s a pleasurable journey alongside the development of Warhol the artist during a fascinating and still under-appreciated period. The drawings are striking as are the LIFE images.

Books like this tend to become available, stay in print for a while, and then fall off the map and go up in price. When I googled the title to get a cover image for this piece, I saw that the book is presently available widely in the US and at reasonable prices–you could even buy it at Wal-Mart’s online shop if you were so inclined (actually, Target is offering it at a price ten dollars less than Wal-Mart, and there’s not the guilt associated with a Wal-Mart puchase!). I’d suggest grabbing one now instead of procrastinating and then debating whether or not you should pay $120 for it in five years.

In Barcal’s “Art of Reduction…” essay, she introduces concepts/phrases such as OF BROWSING AND MARVELLING, REMARKABLY UNREMARKABLE THINGS, and THE HIGH ART OF ‘SERIOUS PLAY,’ which demonstrate to even the casual student of Warhol’s aesthetic the importance of this period and of LIFE’s influence on the artist. The roots of everything that came later are there….and there for YOU to explore and examine in this important and enjoyable and large volume.


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