• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
“I come from nowhere,” Andy Warhol once famously quipped. But to the inhabitants of Medzilaborce in eastern Slovakia, where Warhol’s mother was born and from which she emigrated in 1921, Warhol is a hometown boy. Not Andy Warhol, but Andy Warhola, originally written Varchola and a common name in the town registrar.
In 1991, following the fall of communism, Warhol’s brother Paul made a trip to what was then Czechoslovakia and founded the Warhol Museum of Modern Art. Since then, there has been a new interest in Warhol’s family roots and their influence on his art.
“Everyone in the West knows Andy Warhol Superstar,” says Warhol Museum director Michael Bycko. “But do they know the other side of Andy?” Mr. Bycko, contests that Warhol never placed much stock in his family’s rural roots and heritage. (Andy Warhol was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh.)
Among the artifacts presented in a recent Warhol exhibition, “Andy Warhol and Czechoslovakia,” at Prague’s Dvorak Sec gallery, are recordings of Warhol’s mother singing Ruthenian folk songs and her naive drawings, which bear an uncanny resemblance to Warhol’s early illustrations and familiar screen prints. In addition there were some familiar screenprints which were presented in the context of the tradition of Orthodox icon painting – which surrounded Warhol as he grew up.
“Andy Warhol was a very religious man,” says Bycko. “During the last years of his life, he was very devout ... and began to paint icons. Andy’s first meeting with art was through Ruthenian icons, which decorated the bedroom of his mother, Julia. That flat style of painting, the idea of serial production – all this had its foundation in the tradition of the icon.”
This new take on Warhol’s art has yet to make inroads among scholars in the United States. But in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and in particular in Warhol’s mother’s hometown of Medzilaborce, Warhol is being embraced as something of a local hero.