Art in the Family: An inside preview of UNCLE ANDY (Warhola Films), a family biopic of Andy Warhol

UNCLE ANDY, an upcoming feature film by Abby Warhola and Jesse Best (Photo credit: Courtesy of Warhola Films, from a photo by James Warhola, 1975)

UNCLE ANDY, an upcoming feature film by Abby Warhola and Jesse Best (Photo credit: Courtesy of Warhola Films, from a photo by James Warhola, 1975)

Andy Warhol was not only one of the most famous artists and personalities of the 20th century and an icon of the Pop ‘60s, but like all of us, he had a more private side that was seen exclusively by his immediate family. From the time of Andrew Warhola’s birth on August 6, 1928, his relatives at home in his native Pittsburgh watched him develop from a sickly child who loved to draw, into a prodigiously talented youth, a successful commercial artist, and the leading Superstar of the art world and social scene in New York, where they visited him in his townhouse filled with art treasures and Siamese cats. To give a firsthand account of his beginnings as the son of humble working-class Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from present-day eastern Slovakia, and to reveal the more human aspects of the man and his background, members of the Warhola family are preserving their personal recollections in a new film project, UNCLE ANDY: THE ANDY WARHOL FAMILY FILM.

The young Andrew Warhola, 1933 (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Warhola Family)

The young Andrew Warhola, 1933 (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Warhola Family)

The full-length documentary is the work of Abby Warhola, granddaughter of Andy’s eldest brother Paul, and her partner Jesse Best, both of whom have established careers as artists in their own right. Abby is a skilled photographer, who has shot events for the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and Fashion Week in New York; Jesse creates award-winning mixed-media paintings and three-dimensional wall sculptures, and has assisted on feature films made in Pittsburgh. Together they formed Warhola Films in 2013, and have captured countless hours of interviews with her family in Super 8 and 16mm formats, including footage shot on the same type of Bolex camera used by Andy for his Factory Screen Tests and his other cutting-edge underground films.

UNCLE ANDY will cover several decades, starting with Andy’s childhood in the 1930s. Abby says, “I think it’s important for audiences to realize that his family roots shaped him. He came from a very creative family and their blue-collar work ethic is something that resonated with him throughout his entire career.” For the film, she explains:

We are not trying to paint a perfect picture of him, we just want to capture the true reality of how the family remembers him and to gain a sense of who Andy Warhol was behind closed doors. Mostly, the family remembers Uncle Andy as silly and fun to be around. Plus, I believe meeting my family will be just as entertaining as the stories they share about Andy.

Paul and Andy Warhola, c. 1943 (Photo credit: Anne Warhola)

Paul and Andy Warhola, c. 1943 (Photo credit: Anne Warhola)

Abby’s mother, artist Madalen Warhola, who carries on the family traditions of silkscreening and pysanki (an Eastern European folk art using a wax-resist method to decorate Easter eggs), agrees that he “had a funny wit and a silly, quirky sense of humor. He would always joke with the family, he was never serious with us. And he always gave us Bazooka bubblegum—I think that’s where we got our addiction!”

In addition to first-person accounts and anecdotes about Andy, the film will include an assortment of family snapshots and Factory Fotos by Billy Name and Gerard Malanga. There will also be animation sequences, in a style similar to Andy’s early illustration work (among Abby’s favorite pieces by Andy are “his early illustrations, pretty much anything he did with the blotted line, especially his shoes and cats, and anything with gold leaf”), to recreate stories from his childhood and to bring to life some iconic moments of family visits with him in New York (based on nephew Jamie Warhola’s children’s books Uncle Andy’s and Uncle Andy’s Cats). The film’s soundtrack, according to Abby, will be “an eclectic mix of old and new, as well as some beautiful songs by ‘Bubba’ (Andy’s mother Julia, Abby’s great-grandmother)–music that reflects the Warhola family and not just the icon Andy Warhol.”

Carrying on the artistic traditions of Andy and the Warhola family is very important to Abby:

Andy Warhol with niece Mary Lou and nephew Jamie (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Warhola Family)

Andy Warhol with niece Mary Lou and nephew Jamie (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Warhola Family)

I want to continue to create an environment for my daughter Veva that allows her to explore all creative endeavors. ‘Bubba’ instilled that into her boys and it has been passed down ever since. I love the artistic traditions of the Warhola family, just like anyone who is proud of their heritage . . . To be honest, art is woven into my earliest memories. I didn’t go through a day without seeing someone in my family creating some form of art. My grandfather passed it on to me firsthand by using me as a helper on many of his paintings in the early ‘90s. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

Production and post-production work on the film will require another year, with an anticipated release date by September 2016. For more information on the project, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1546349139/uncle-andy-the-andy-warhol-family-film.

 

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.