The Warhol is Here exhibition opens this weekend at De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, with materials and the gallery magazine designed by Air Design. The consultancy’s design director Seàn O’Mara has written an account of how Warhol has fascinated and influenced him throughout his life and career.
Growing up in Ireland In the early 1970’s I was making Warholesque displays in my bedroom without knowing who Andy was. In a house without a television my magpie instinct turned to commercial products for visual stimulation. These to me were, and still are, beautiful art. Mum probably wondered what was happening to all her Daz boxes, Lux liquid bottles and anything else that wasn’t nailed down.
They were in my private art gallery. My bedroom was full of pop, airbrush and political posters. My favourite poster was the red and black, Che Guevara, Hasta la Victoria Siempre. Space hoppers were my Claes Oldenburgs, Battle Action comics were my Roy Lichtensteins and my Action Man was an improvised Alan Jones (don’t ask). My pinups were Marilyn Monroe and Blondie. I didn’t appreciate music at the time (except for Blondie) but the sounds of my brother’s record player booming out David Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory repetitively probably subconsciously indoctrinated me further. Andy Warhol looks a scream… Hang him on my wall…
I gravitated to art at school when most pupils played rugby. It was considered a strange subject that wasn’t understood. I grew up and went to Art College. We celebrated Andy’s life and passing with a college party, on April 26, 1988. The tickets were suitably fluorescent pink. I subsequently ended up in New York later that year by accident on a scholarship, and headed straight for MOMA. Andy seemed to be following me: Mao, Marilyn, Brillo and his first doily illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar.
After my degree I migrated to London and Saint Martins for more design mayhem. My first job in London was a designer at Imagination in 1993. Greg Gorman, the American photographer, was having an exhibition in the Imagination Gallery. The studio was tasked to design some elements for the show and a 10X8 campaign photo of Andy landed on my desk wearing Ray Bans. He was looking at me sternly with his peroxide hair and he seemed to be saying that I had been neglecting him, as to be fair I had. But it was still some years before we met again.
I lived in the Isle of Dogs and would regularly go to Greenwich market to rummage through all the second hand junk. I found a great magazine and record stand. Andy was everywhere. Velvet Underground banana album covers, Diana Ross, The Smiths, Aretha Franklin, even the Rolling Stones. He designed over 50 album covers and there was that Ray Ban advert again. Only this time he shared the page with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jackson.
I joined Fitch in London in the late 90s. For overseas travel I had to acquire a credit card – a first for me. The day after receipt of the said credit card I got rather inebriated. Stumbling through London with a fellow designer I passed Tom Toms (now Artrepublic) on New Compton Street. As I peered into the window at all the wonders inside, there on the wall was a screen-printed Campbell’s Soup Can.
I was transfixed. I stared for some time misting the window. Then under the misapprehension that I was now well flush, we ambled in the door. I don’t remember the conversation I had with the gallery assistant other than ’yeah it’s real’…‘deposit’… ‘and it’s yours’. I handed over the said credit card. I woke in the morning wondering what the hell had I done… but secretly very happy… then worried about the financial repercussions. After several payments over considerable time, Andy and I moved in together. He still lives with me now.