Rhonda Long-Sharp, owner of the Long-Sharp Gallery, was exhibiting Andy Warhol drawings in the Masterpiece London art fair in June 2013 when a charming man paid her a visit. And then another. And one more after that.
Actually, he sort of made a nuisance of himself. He kept insisting that Long-Sharp sell him an Andy Warhol original on display — a china ink drawing featuring a winged being dating from the 1950s. But it wasn't for sale.
“And I had no idea who he was,” says Long-Sharp. "He kept coming in and I kept saying, 'Sir, these are for display only.' We were using them to display something educational about Warhol. And so on the second day that he came back, he said, I’m inspired by those.' And I said, 'What would they inspire you to do?” And he said, 'I’m an artist.'”
The persistent Warhol fan turned out to be British artist and sculptor Wayne Warren, a well-known commodity in the art world — at least outside the U.S. — who has displayed his work mostly in Europe, Asia and Australia. One characteristic Warren piece is "executive excess," a gold-colored suit of armor made from consumer products.
Warren eventually talked Long-Sharp into selling him the drawing — and it inspired him to create a series of sculptures of angel wings out of plastic and resin. This week, Long-Sharp is displaying that work alongside Warhol's drawings of cherubs, angels and wings. Warren will attend Friday's opening, flying in from London.
Back in the mid-fifties, Warhol was a decade away from the artistic breakthroughs that would make his a household name.
“By the time he’s doing these, he’s become the king of New York commercial artists,” says Long-Sharp. “He’s drawing shoes, this, that, and the other. But at home, on his sketchpad, this is what he’s doing. Ultimately he does a book [using his sketches as studies] entitled In the Bottom of My Garden. And if you try to buy it today, depending on where you buy it, it would be $50,000 to $80,000. There were about a hundred study drawings. The only home they’ve been in is Warhol’s."
What is striking about the 36 Warhol drawings included in this exhibit is their whimsy. In one, you see a plump female cherub alongside the phrase, “Good Morning.” In another, you see a boy angel portrayed from the back, displaying his butt along with his wings. It is not a stretch to say that this work was inspired by Catholic iconography if you look at the artist's background.
"The whole idea of us exhibiting these has been that, to understand an artist, you have to understand the progression of their career, and their influences,” says Long-Sharp. “Warhol was devoutly Catholic, going to mass every day when he was in New York.”