Do It Yourself (Violin) (1962) is an extraordinarily rare and important drawing by Andy Warhol, dating from the most pivotal year of his career. Executed in pencil and crayon, it is related to a series of five major paintings that Warhol based on “Do-It-Yourself” coloring sets published by Venus Paradise, a company that also manufactured a popular brand of colored pencils. Four of these paintings are in major collections: the Daros Collection, Switzerland; the National Gallery, Berlin; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Although related to the fifth, privately-held painting, Do It Yourself (Violin) is an autonomous work, and, at over three feet in width, the only such large-format drawing known to exist. Two smaller drawings—Do It Yourself (Narcissus) and Do It Yourself (Flowers)—are held in the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Sonnabend Collection. As with the other Do-It-Yourself works, which depict anodyne landscapes and still-lifes, the drawing’s image of a violin, fruit bowl, and vase is resolutely conventional. Warhol’s treatment of his appropriated source, however, is a radical conceptual move. He leaves the coloring procedure deliberately visible, employing only seven of the seventeen prescribed hues—red, brown, orange, blue, black and two yellows—to fill in selected sections of violin, apples, bowl, knife, and a partly-shaded glow of yellow drapery in the background. The rest of the image consists of blank scaffolding of monochrome outline. The numbers designating the color for each section are scrupulously reproduced, emphasizing the apparent withdrawal of artistic expression in favor of following instructions—a sly jab at the prevailing Abstract Expressionist painterly idiom of the time, which favored unbounded gestural and emotional freedom. Warhol has not entirely surrendered his art to the coloring set’s preordained system, however, but has carefully selected which areas of the image to color in and which to leave blank. Indeed, the work’s manual execution—achieved by hand according to a projected outline—provides a significant link between the drawing-based creation of his early work and the fully photomechanical process that would begin with his screenprint Baseball in August 1962. In the Venus Paradise sets, Warhol saw both a product and a mode of painting geared specifically towards mass production: a Duchampian found object that reflected his own working methods at the time, as well as his fascination with consumerist America. Imbued with razor-sharp conceptual intelligence, Do It Yourself (Violin) heralds the shift from painterly to mechanistic means and the vast, unfolding possibilities of Warhol’s Pop era.
When he described his art in 1962 as “a projection of everything that can be bought and sold, the practical but impermanent symbols that sustain us” (A. Warhol, quoted in Art in America, vol. 50, no. 1, 1962, p. 42), Warhol was speaking literally as well as figuratively. He would use a projector to copy the outlines of advertisements, cartoons and book illustrations before coloring them in: this procedure was employed in his earliest Campbell’s Soup paintings in 1962, and for the drawing of Do It Yourself (Violin). A talented draughtsman, Warhol had established himself by the mid-1950s as a successful commercial illustrator, drawing everything from shoes to weather icons and Christmas cards. His move into fine art from commercial drawing in the early 1960s was swift, calculated and stunningly effective. The delicate ink lines of his earliest drawings were replaced by a sharp focus on diagrammatic illustrations and consumerist packaging, accomplished with the projector; another early sequence that bears graphic similarities with the Do It Yourself works is the Dance Diagram series, which reproduced the numbered steps from a manual of dance instructions. This emphatic artificiality would reach its peak in the chill pictorial unit of the screenprint.
Except in the black areas, the instructional numbers in Do It Yourself (Violin) remain visible through their crayon coloring. This distinguishes the work from Warhol’s painted version of the same image. Although his choice of which sectors to color remains remarkably close between the two, showing his careful eye for chromatic composition, the opaque colored zones in the painting obliterate their numbers, as intended in the original DIY set. Warhol, however, aimed to underscore his picture’s construction. (This is emphasized in Do It Yourself (Seascape) (1962)—the only “finished” painting of the series in the sense that all its sections are colored. No blank white spaces were left to reveal the picture’s genesis, so Warhol applied the numbers on top of the paint using Letraset, a dry transfer lettering system.) In the present work, the more diaphanous crayon allows the “unfinished” nature of the image to shine through. Alongside the large areas of white space and empty networks of line, this choice of medium lends the composition a surprising delicacy.
The play with notions of authorship and originality so evident in Do It Yourself (Violin) would remain central for the entirety of Warhol’s career. Beyond his incisive questioning of the drawing’s ontological status, however, Warhol was also undoubtedly sensitive to the content of the image. The violin has a long and distinguished history in the still life. It played an important role in the Dutch vanitas compositions of the 16th and 17th centuries, denoting the transience of earthly pleasures and the parallels between the arts of music and painting. Later, its beautiful formal qualities of shape and volume were often seized upon by the Cubists in their radical rethinking of space and representation. By the time it was produced for a color-by-numbers set in 1960s America, the picture in Venus Paradise’s Still Life (Violin and Apples), as it was labelled on the box, held little of such symbolic or investigative power. Absorbed into the popular imagination as a “classic” artistic subject—the DIY sets Warhol worked from were sold as the “General Series”—the generic idea of still life with violin had become simply another product to be sold. Do It Yourself (Violin), then, stands as a profound investigation of the ultimate Warholian concern: art as commodity. Despite his avowed cynicism, however, Warhol’s sensitive manual reproduction of the image gives it a poignant new life as an artwork, and gives us an unprecedented insight into the seminal creative vision of his early practice.