I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas

I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas, Richard Hamilton, 1971

 
 

Richard Hamilton made his first etchings and drypoints as a student in the late 1930s. Throughout the following decade he continued to use etching, drypoint and aquatint and experimented with lithography, but it was the influential screenprints incorporating photographic and hand-drawn stencils made in the 1960s which brought him international acclaim as a printmaker. The use of photography has long been an integral part of Hamilton’s working process.

 
 

This work was based on colour cine-film frames from the Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn (Mark Sandrich, 1942) . The work was printed by E H Schrieber, Stuttgart, H P Haas, Stuttgart and Dietz Offizin, Bavaria and published by Petersburg Press, London in an edition of 150.

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Neither Santa nor Scrooge

“Christmas is when you have to go to the bank and get crisp money to put in envelopes from the stationery store for tips. After you tip the doorman, he goes on sick leave or quits …”

Andy Warhol

The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol

 
 

Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and his dachshund. Photo credit: Mick Rock, 1979

 
 

By the time Andy Warhol wrote these words in the 1970s, he was extremely rich. He’d fulfilled the American dream but never claimed it made him happy. He describes himself in his book as a loner obsessed with jewelry and money. But he did have a talent for making gifts. As a young man he was entranced by Truman Capote, author of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, telephoning him almost every day. Capote dismissed him as “one of those hopeless people you just know nothing’s ever going to happen to”; then one Christmas he wondered if he was wrong. A friend sent him a golden shoe painted by Warhol, dedicated to Capote.

Warhol never really escaped his childhood. According to Capote, Warhol’s mother, Julia, was a bad-tempered alcoholic; she moved to New York to live with her son, still maintaining her pious ways, and they shared not just home life but work. Julia drew angels (Warhol got them published) that are closely related to his Christmas card designs. For him the American Christmas was an anthropological fantasy, something he watched reflected in Tiffany’s window. Yet it was a fantasy in which he tried extremely hard to participate. Of course, that’s what it is for everyone. The images of Christmas he created for Tiffany’s are of the perfection that everyone fails to attain.

Andy Warhol’s Christmas Cards

Naomi Sims and Andy Warhol, Interview Magazine Gala Christmas Issue, December 1972

 
 

Interview Magazine Christmas Card, c.1980. Issued by Interview Magazine’s publishers in the 1980s, the card features the artist playfully posing as Santa Claus, with a white beard drawn on by Richard Bernstein, who designed the card. The inside of the card is signed “love Andy Warhol” by the artist himself

 
 

Since Andy Warhol arrived in Manhattan, his fey sketches had blurred the line between commercial design and fine art. And he had become, among other things, the new king of Christmas. In 1956, in addition to all the work he was getting drawing shoes and bags, he was commissioned to design Christmas cards for the Fifth Avenue temple of Tiffany & Co. Warhol’s cards were subsequently published by Tiffany’s every Christmas up to 1962, the year he started to show his paintings of soup cans.

Picture a can of Campbell’s soup – eating it by yourself. Then contrast this mental picture with Warhol’s 1962 Tiffany’s Christmas card depicting a star constructed of fruit and holly – a picture of the good life, hearty and shared. Food is a constant theme of his Christmas cards. He drew a Christmas tree made of fruit, a reindeer centrepiece for the table, a basket stuffed with food and wine. Then there are the gifts, wrapped or opened, and arranged around the fireplace – a doll, a rocking horse, a striped candy cane with a pink bow: Andy Warhol’s vision of the perfect Christmas.

More recently, Warhol’s Christmas cards have been republished, and there’s even a little book of them. You might dismiss this as the extreme, ephemeral end of Warhol rediscoveries; he himself never claimed that his early graphic output was a significant part of his oeuvre. And yet, when you look at Warhol’s Christmas cards alongside his greatest paintings of the 1960s – the suicide, the car wrecks and so on – they become oddly telling. Set them beside his electric chair and their optimism about a warm and kind American community suddenly looks desperately fragile and consciously artificial. Then you realise why he needed to give up designing Christmas cards.