SPOTLIGHT: In the Bottom of my Garden (ca. 1956)

Andy Warhol. In the Bottom of My Garden (F & S 86A-105A). Ca. 1956. The complete set of 21 lithographs on wove paper bound in paper-covered boards with offset lithograph and hand-coloring on front (as issued). Three with unique hand-coloring in Dr. Martin’s Aniline dye; 22 leaves in all including two blanks as issued. Each page 8 ½ x 11”. This example given by Warhol to a very well known, long time Factory associate and close friend of the artist. Impeccable letter of provenance. White front boards, with just a hint of browning on the back covers, the condition over all is uncharacteristically bright and clean.


By Todd Alden

Donna de Salvo introduces our subject in Andy Warhol Prints as follows: “In the Bottom of My Garden (ca. 1956) relies solely on images to convey content. A book with twenty-two pages primarily hand-colored offset lithographs, it is widely expressive account of fairies and putti as they cavort in a garden.” A closer reading of multiple examples of this work reveals that many of the pages were left blank or at least only partially colored by Warhol; many examples were colored differently, with different sections left blank, like old and unfinished coloring books. The blank sections and uncolored pages, in fact, were crucial elements of the sequencing and structure of the book. Moreover, three out of twenty-one lithographs actually contain brief, hand-written textual elements conveying the unmistakable rhythm of a narrative—a romantic comedy--with a self-reflexive beginning, middle, and end. If this work is, in fact, primarily composed of images, it remains nevertheless, a work whose very essence is that of a book: a book about earlier books.

The title of In the Bottom of My Garden (ca. 1956), as De Salvo notes, is drawn from a song popularized by “Gay icon,” Beatrice Lillie. Before examining the content more closely, let’s take a closer look at Warhol’s graphic technique which began with blot-drawings. Although it took great control to master, Warhol’s blot-drawings delineated broken lines, evoking the graphic look of haphazardness. The blotted line anticipated Warhol’s later discoveries of other reproductive techniques, including stencils, rubber stamps, and most importantly silkscreens—all procedures in which the final work is, like the blotted line, derived through some kind of image transfer, making flippy-floppy the hierarchies of “original” and “copy.” All of these techniques also allowed the artist to work prodigiously, fast, and with legible remove from the final image.

Not only do Warhol’s blot-drawings look printed (as in books and magazines), but their pictorial space folds over, characteristically, onto tracings or delineations of earlier printed things. Like the return of the repressed, Warhol’s drawings don’t reproduce “real” people or “real” space,” but rather, conjure up the reproductive spaces of earlier pictures—of engravings (Grandville, Currier & Ives, Jacques Stella), of magazines (Life), of The New York Public Library’s picture archive, but also, of course, of Warhol’s own library.  Stylized, artificial, full of winking quotation and sexual innuendo, Warhol’s magical books from the 1950s dream of images selected and fragmented from the library’s image bank.

A la Recherche du Shoe Perdue (ca. 1955), Warhol’s Proustian-inspired anteceding book, tips its hand most evidently, but Warhol’s other books also re-cycle books and the library’s contents. The artist’s library antics derived, moreover, from “stealing,” according to the artist’s early friend, Bert Greene. In fact, Warhol paid huge fines from the New York Public Library. Greene remembers “Andy said, ‘Oh, you just go to the Public Library and take out as much as you want, and you just say that you lost them, or they were burned. And you only have to pay two cents a picture’.” Warhol’s prototypical acts of image appropriation, therefore, were also associated with metaphoric, but also with actual library theft.

The formative development of the early drawings drew on a bibliophilia that was cut-and-pasted, and re-animated by the hinged-and-folded blotted line technique. It is therefore unsurprising that Warhol turned to the graphic form of the book not only as a source of inspiration, but also as a reproducible format suitable for encompassing his personal art during the 1950s.

In the Bottom of My Garden depicts a saucy, sexually explicit narrative including cherubs (and non-cherubs) containing numerous double-entendres. For the three pages containing a brief text, Warhol invited his mother to apply her charming, antiquated hand-lettering onto his blot-drawings.  The cover introduces the winking, campy title, “In the Bottom of My Garden”; the last two pages scripted by Mrs. Warhola arrive at the cheeky rear of the book addressing the reader: “Do you see my pussy”; this is followed by the final page depicting a cherub’s bottom and Warhol’s mother’s closing script: “the end.” The strategic placement of “the end” over the “derriere” further animates the literary camp behind In the Bottom of My Garden.

Some--but not all--of the book’s pages were hand-colored with Dr. Martin’s Aniline dye, again evoking the graphic manner and idiosyncrasies of the space of old time books. In keeping with this idea, a cursory examination of different examples of the book reveals that they were frequently hand-colored differently.  With specific regard to the example illustrated here, the minimal and local application of pink color exclusively on the penultimate page only in the area of the “pussy” (and not on the rest of the girl holding it over her lap), demonstrates the dramatic effect of using less ink rather than more and colors the double-entendre pink. Just as brevity is the soul of wit, the absence of color elsewhere only serves to amplify the exclamation mark of the book’s bawdy end.

If the magical or uncanny returns of Warhol’s broken line drawings reanimate the shape of things lost, they also conjure up the gaps too—the blank spaces, the lost narratives, the memories shuddering to forget. (The aphasia of figures or cherubs who cannot speak?) To wit, Warhol’s creative process also included methodical acts of omission—the intentional leaving out of crucial parts of the original image.  “The important thing is to leave out…which you leave out,” Warhol told an early friend. “What you leave out you can always put in later.”

In order to grasp the syntax of Warhol’s romance, we need to consider all of the plates in the larger context of a book (and also, for that matter, of Warhol’s literary oven). Together, the plates were hardbound, and given away to clients and friends. In the Bottom of My Garden, like his other books, functioned as a kind of “calling card,” which, as the commercial designer for a number of literary books, makes good business sense.   

Unscrupulous dealers cut out the pages from the book and sell them individually. Unscrupulous auction houses do not hesitate to re-sell them, even though they are, by definition, works that are missing the fraternity of original, integral components. Not simply is the general context of the other pages lost—and with it, the sense of it being a book about earlier books---but so too are Warhol’s methodical acts of omission—the intentional leaving out of crucial parts of the original syntax: for example, which pages/sections are colored, which pages/sections are not.

“The important thing is to leave out…which you leave out. What you leave out you can always put in later.” If this mantra sounds erotic, it was also, for Warhol, essential to his technique and modus operandi. It is not inconsequential that Warhol, the professional artist, used his mother’s hand to illustrate the titles and “speaking parts”—the sauciest parts: “have you seen my pussy” and “the end”--of his narrative. With her poor grasp of English, the devout Catholic could hardly understand the multiple levels of the meaning concerning, let’s say, the pleasures of the text. Naughty or nice, we can only imagine that Warhol and friends took pleasure in the irony that his mother was giving narrative color to a book she could not otherwise fully understand, particularly as it related to the emphatically erotic and homoerotic dance of positive and negative spaces, presence and absence, innocence and experience. Like the unfulfilling structure of desire itself, the viewer/reader never really gets to the bottom of In the Bottom of My Garden. But to forget to speak about the blank pages and empty sections of this book, and to fail to treat the blot-line drawings as sections of a (w)hole, therefore, is to fail to understand that which, by Warhol’s very explicit design, has always already been left out.  


*Portions of this text are drawn from Todd Alden’s previous essay, “Andy Warhol’s Literary Oven: Blotted Ink Drawings 1952-54” in Andy Warhol: Strange World Drawings 1948 – 1959 (New York: Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2008), n.p.

© Todd Alden 2013