Warhol’s shoe fetish

Andy Warhol – whose 15 minutes of fame show no signs of ending – was many things, some of which may surprise you.

He was a devout Roman Catholic, whose jewel-colored Lizes, Jackies and Marilyns reflect the Byzantine icons of his Carpatho-Rusyn-American childhood in Pittsburgh and whose memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral extolled his work in soup kitchens. (This reporter can attest to this, having seen him regularly in the 1980s at Saturday evening Mass at The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan.)

He was a savvy, hardworking entrepreneur who wasn’t above taking to the streets with an assistant and copies of Interview magazine to ensure that the publication remained in the public eye.

He was a craftsman, well-schooled in art and art history from his studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and his years in advertising.

And he was a foot and shoe fetishist.

“There are stories from one of his former romantic partners (the poet John Giorno) about his fondness for toes,” says Matt Wrbican, chief archivist of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, which contains hundreds of thousands of paintings, photographs, prints, films, videos, letters, wigs and articles of clothing belonging to the Pop artist (1928-87). “He did a large series of drawings of feet for a book project. He drew the feet of Christopher Isherwood, Leontyne Price, Tammy Grimes and Cecil Beaton. They would pose for him, though in the case of Beaton, Warhol drew his feet while he was sleeping and put a flower between his toes.

“There are drawings of feet with Coke bottles, soup cans, dogs, American flag motifs and sea shells. There are also photos of feet (like Mick Jagger’s) that are not the sources of the drawings but works by themselves. He had a real fascination and attraction for feet.”

In a few photos, you can see Warhol’s own tootsies, clothed in bright red socks, peeping through a pair of shoes he cut oddly, not in any attempt to be fashionable but more likely to relieve a corn or bunion, Wrbican says. Warhol owned lots of shoes “everything from Top-siders to Reeboks to (18 pairs of) cowboy boots and anything in between, including loafers and penny loafers.” Among his shoes was a pair of Ferragamos, splattered with paint.

“He also owned women’s shoes made by Halston – brightly colored, metallic leather with rhinestone heels, really over the top.” No doubt these will play a special role in the exhibit “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede,” which bows at The Warhol in May.

Warhol’s professional interest in shoes was enhanced by his illustrations for I. Miller, a shoe company that hired him in 1956. His witty, full-page color ads – which ran in the society pages of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune, never the tabloids – “really pushed the brand forward,” Wrbican says. And it inspired paintings like “Diamond Dust Shoes (Random)” (1980), whose brightly colored repetition of a commercial object is the quintessence of Pop.

Like most artists, Warhol was just as fascinated by hands. His five-finger exercises include a Polaroid of his left hand; “Rorschach Hand Prints” (1984), featuring handprints in primary acrylic colors on a bright pink canvas; and “Sidewalk” (1983), a photograph of Cary Grant’s, Judy Garland’s, Shirley Temple’s and Jack Nicholson’s hand and footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatre).

But what is perhaps most fascinating is the way Warhol’s use of hands fell along gender lines.

“He had this way of posing the hands of people in portraits,” Wrbican says, “the men with the hands in the frame, the women without. Jay Shriver, his assistant for the last seven years of his life, said it made the men seem more active and masculine with their hands in the frame.”

These were, of course, commissioned portraits of accomplished but not necessarily readily recognizable people. For portraits of famous women, the rules were somewhat different. Warhol’s portraits of Karen Kain, Liza Minnelli and Diana Vreeland all have their hands in the frame. Might he have been saying that fame gives a woman the kind of commanding presence usually reserved for men?

Warhol also used a lighter paint for women’s skin tones than for men’s, although once again when it came to renowned women, all bets were off. Paintings of Brigitte Bardot, Grace Jones and Princess Caroline are so colorful, Wrbican says, as to transcend Realism.

The use of lighter colors for female skin tones has its antecedents in art history, he adds. And that may be yet another surprise: Warhol, the avatar of the avant-garde, was nonetheless a student of the artistic tradition.

“He understood that you have to know the rules in order to break them.”

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