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Cover Star: When Everyone Could Own a Warhol

12 August 2015

Andy Warhol was the undisputed King of Pop Art, making icons of consumer objects and celebrities alike. His 'banana' album cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico's 1967 album is equally iconic. But Warhol was not new to the record industry: almost two decades earlier he had illustrated his first album cover as a jobbing young graphic designer newly arrived in New York from Pittsburgh.

Warhol illustrated album covers for important jazz labels such as Blue Note and Prestige throughout the 1950s, working for long-time Blue Note art director Miles Reid. Albums by Thelonius Monk, Kenny Burrell and Count Basie featured covers adorned with trademark Warhol blotted line drawings.

Warhol found considerable success as a commercial artist for magazines in the 1950s. The 1960s saw him develop his art via the Disasters series, Campbell's Soup Cans and silk screens of American celebrities. In 1965 he announced his retirement from painting and concentrated on film, also producing The Velvet Underground and multimedia happenings such as The Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

The rarer LPs from the 1950s are now as sought after by Warhol collectors as they are by fans of jazz

By the end of the decade Warhol was earning more from his art than he'd made at the height of his success as a commercial artist.

As a fully established and successful artist - and friend of the stars - Warhol returned to album covers in the 1970s & '80s: the Rolling Stones' 1971 album Sticky Fingers featuring its infamous zip cover; stylised polaroid snaps of Diana Ross in 1982; silk screens of Aretha Franklin and John Lennon; and even covers for Canadian easy listening star Paul Anka and British outfit Curiosity Killed the Cat.

The rarer LPs from the 1950s are now as sought-after by Warhol collectors as they are by fans of jazz, fetching thousands of dollars on auction sites.

Warhol with William Burroughs in the Chelsea Hotel, New York City; Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in this room.

Andy Warhol: Album covers gallery

Various Artists: Progressive Piano | RCA Victor, 1954 (unreleased)
Thelonious Monk: Compilation | Prestige, 1956
Carlos Chávez: A Programme of Mexican Music | Columbia Masterworks, 1949
Chopin: Nocturnes performed by Jan Smeterlin | Epic, 1956
Various Artists: Cool Gabriels | Groove, 1956
Kenny Burrrell: Blue Lights Volume 1 | Blue Note, 1958
Johnny Griffin: The Congregation | Blue Note, 1958
Jay Jay Johnson, Kai Winding, Benny Green: Trombone by Three | Prestige, 1957
George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue / Ferde Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite | RCA Victor, 1957
Kenny Burrell, Kenny Burrell, Vol. 2 | Blue Note, 1957
Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers | Rolling Stones Records, 1971
John Cale: The Academy in Peril | Reprise, 1972
Aretha Franklin: Aretha | Arista, 1986
Paul Anka: The Painter | United Artists, 1976
Diana Ross: Silk Electric | RCA, 1982
John Lennon: Menlove Ave | Parlophone, 1986

Pop Art Techniques

Alastair Sooke on Warhol

Warhol's blotted line technique, and silk screen printing with Gerard Malanga

The original version of this article was published in November 2014.

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