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.