Andy's Athletes - Jack Nicklaus
The stories behind Warhol's encounters with sports stars of the Seventies - as pictured in the Catalogue Raisonné
Not all of Andy Warhol's photo shoots for his Athletes Series of 1977 went as well as the one with Muhammad Ali and the one with champion jockey Willie Shoemaker. Some were more fraught and at times exposed Andy's lack of knowledge when it came to the sporting world - though he knew how big the stars in it had become, proclaiming in the New York Post that November "Athletes are the new movie stars".
On Wednesday September 21, 1977 Andy entered a Columbus, Ohio motel room to shoot some Polaroids of the golfer Jack Nicklaus as part of the series commissioned by businessman Richard Weisman. All the images that resulted from the encounter are in the new Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978 - Volume 5. It's an essential purchase if you're interested in tracing the incredible arc of his artistic life. In his diary from the time, Andy described the encounter with the champion golfer like this.
“We waited while he talked on the phone. He looked fat but Richard said that he was once 280 and was now down to 180. He was very tanned but his eyes, around them, were white where his sunglasses were, and his hands were tiny and white, he wears gloves on the course. His hair was blonde and he said something about needing a haircut but I had the feeling his hair was just the way it had always looked, puffed just so over the ears like it was ‘coiffed’.
"I started taking pictures but none of them were coming out good. It’s so hard taking pictures of suntanned people because they come out so red. He was being friendly and Richard was trying to be friendly but somehow the situation was strained, he didn’t understand what was going on. And I had my tape recorder with me and was taping, but when I sort of realized that he wouldn’t understand that, I just quietly shut it off. Richard’s secretary Claudia showed him pictures I’d done of Tom Seaver, Muhammad Ali and Pelé, but he still didn’t understand why we were there taking pictures of him. Richard had sent him a book showing my paintings but he didn’t understand the style.
According to Weisman, at one point Warhol asked Nicklaus to move his 'stick' to the left during the sitting. "Jack glared and said, 'Excuse me, this is not a stick, this is a club,' " Weisman recalled. "Then he looked at me and said, 'Does this guy know what he is doing?' Andy picks up the story in his diary.
"And then he got another phone call and we were getting nervous and I took some more pictures and he didn’t like any and we didn’t like any. Not getting good pictures made things more and more awkward and finally he said, ‘Well you know what you want – you don’t tell me how to tee off on the green,’ and I felt more uncomfortable and everyone just wished we could leave. Then finally he liked one but it was just nothing, a front shot, and it didn’t see any difference between the rest of them and that one, but he said he didn’t want to be looking – what’s the word? It’s like cocky but it’s a short word - he didn’t want to look at it like that, and he thought this one made him look like a nice person.
"We ran out and ditched the whole thing in the car and that’s when it suddenly occurred to me that he actually had looked like he might be lonely and maybe we should have invited him out with us, but he hadn’t suggested anything himself, and nobody just knew what to do, so nothing happened."
The Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978 - Volume 5 reveals that Warhol subseqently painted fifteen 40-inch portraits and fifty-eight 10-inch portraits of Nicklaus. In the profile heads, it describes how Warhol appears to be on the brink of rethinking his approach to painterly portraiture, dispersing its hierarchy of recognizable forms into broad, abstract bands of colour. In the three-quarter heads, in which he broadly adheres to the local color zones of the face and background, Nicklaus’s signature blondness tends to dominate the overall tonality of the painted field.
It's this level of detail that makes the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978 - Volume 5 so essential to those delving into the Warhol treasure trove. Check out The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978 - Volume 5 here and the bundle of five Andy Raisonnés here. And come back soon for more insights into Andy's Athletes series.