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"It's So Naïve!" Andy Warhol's Characterization of Ivan Karp

“'It’s so naïve! It’s full of spirit and high rhythm! All the messages are basic love and alienation! There’s no complex worldly wisdom! It’s just good straightforward stuff with tremendous force and conviction!’ (As I said, that was the way he really talked.)” (Popism, 19)



            The memoir is an act of nonfiction, but in many cases, personal perspective within the memoir can create some sense of wondrous fictional styles that would play well in a novel rich with character personalities and development. No art is pure originality, and in every fictional piece of art, you can be sure that the characters within it—or at least some character traits—are based on real people, or a conglomeration of people mixed into one. So the technique of adding reality to dialogue and actions works in very similar ways, both in nonfiction settings and in fictional ones. In Andy Warhol’s case, his characterization of Ivan Karp evoked such a sense of reality that it seemed almost too fictional to be true. But if fiction writers get their characters from real life, then it would make so much sense why Ivan Karp seems so cartoonish, and it makes so much sense why people love well-told stories of true events.


            It’s also noteworthy that Warhol includes parenthetical statements about Ivan, to make his characterization unabashedly clear— “(As I said, that was the way he really talked).” We get two things here—the first is a first-hand perspective of a person we do not know firsthand. Even with the parenthetical qualifier, no one who does not know Ivan Karp can be certain that Andy Warhol’s impression of him is accurate to a tee. What we can glean from his impression, however, is joy in the fact that everyone makes their own individual impressions of people in their lives, and those impressions become clearer and more memorable the more we know a person, and the more we like them or hate them. This simple tool is a vacuum in which there is no air to breath but that of empathy for this pan-human experience of creating impressions of the people we know the best. It would be impossible not to relate to it.


            The second thing is something that is left a little vaguer by nature, however—how this impressionistic ability in Andy’s writing and mental construction played into his visual art. We know that he created, for the most part, what he saw. And we know that any artist creating what he sees is also an artist creating how he sees it—his impression of it. In the realm of pop art, and supported by Andy’s writing about his own paintings (i.e. the two different versions of the coke bottle), we know that while his work took creative license with things, it often appeared very straightforward on the canvas. A can of soup is a can of soup. But why did his vision of realism with the can of soup strike such a nerve, and what was he trying to do in creating it? Did he intentionally strike a nerve, or did he just like soup and the byproduct of that was an accidental cultural phenomenon?


            Ivan answers this question through his commentary at the shows in Brooklyn from his perspective. He is pleasantly awed by the naïveté, basicness, straightforwardness and lack of worldly wisdom exuding from the musical artists, in large part because he thinks they have intentionally simplified their music to leave out any worldly wisdom. But did Andy have the same perspective? Did he subconsciously paint such a realistic portrait of Ivan and was he such good friends with him because he thought the same things about the same straightforward, pop phenomenon? Did he do this because he saw his own art reflected in the musical artists onstage, and selfishly projected intentional importance on their art?



            In Andy’s photograph of Ultra Violet, among others, we get to see something like the reverse of his parenthetical statement at work. We see a picture leaving a lot to wonder about it. Two people, one offering an outstretched tongue to the other, in black and white, and only their heads. There is little to speak of in the background of the frame, and the photo is somewhat blurry. Then, we get a straightforward caption: “Tom Baker and Ultra Violet. Ultra had purple hair and a French accent.” With both pieces put together—the photo and the caption—we get what is seen, and what Andy sees, respectively. His explanation of what he sees is the photo. What he sees is the caption. In the case of the parenthetical, what he sees is the quote from Ivan Karp, and the explanation of what he sees is the parenthetical. It is as if the photo tells us, in Andy’s voice, “this is what she was really like. I told you in my caption, but here’s something to clarify and really drive the point home.”

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