'Julie Andrews star of My Fair Lady evoked a ladylike slipper which Warhol feels reflects the show's decor'
('Crazy Golden Slippers', in Life magazine, 21 January 1957).
Invoking the glamorous world of celebrity and fashion, Golden Shoe (Julie Andrews Shoe) occupies a unique place within Andy Warhol’s early practice. Dedicated to the Hollywood star Julie Andrews, best known for her role as Maria in The Sound of Music, this work witnesses a crucial moment in both the artist’s and the actress’ careers. In the mid-1950s Warhol was on the brink of international fame, while Andrews, who in 1964 would become a household name thanks to Disney’s Mary Poppins, was taking America by storm in the smash Broadway hit My Fair Lady. Golden Shoe belongs to a pivotal series of works exhibited in The Golden Slipper Show at the Bodley Gallery in December 1956. It was bought on the occasion by the celebrated Charles Lisanby, TV production designer, one of Warhol’s closest confidants and Andrews’ lighting assistant on My Fair Lady. The show was an enormous success both critically and commercially: the gallery sold every work and the exhibition was featured in Life magazine in January 1957 in a two-page spread entitled ‘Crazy Golden Slippers. Famous people inspire fanciful footwear’. The opening night was a sensation, drawing in the big stars Warhol had always dreamed of meeting, including Andrews herself, who attended with her fiancé Tony Walton. Each shoe from this series of forty was designed with a glittering personality from the 1950s in mind: Elvis Presley was transfigured into a buccaneer’s boot, award-winning author Truman Capote became a plant-sprouting shoe, a reference to his Broadway musical House of Flowers. James Dean was transformed into an all-American cowboy boot complete with spur, and Zsa Zsa Gabor was symbolized by a spike-heeled stiletto bedecked with flowers. The young Julie Andrews was imagined by Warhol as a classical Cinderella-esque slipper, embellished with gold and silver trim – a reflection of the actress’ alluring public image and a comment on Warhol’s attraction to the glittering, fairytale land of celebrity.
Lisanby, the first admirer as well as buyer of Golden Shoe, was one of Warhol’s most intimate friends. Together in 1956 they embarked on a journey around the world that brought them all the way from America, through the Far East and Europe. The artist was particularly impressed by the gold-leaf lacquered furniture he had seen in Bangkok, and once back in New York in December he immediately started working on the Golden Shoes, a series of gold-leaf collages over blotted-line hand-drawings. At the same time Warhol, at the top of his career as a commercial artist, was taking the streets of Manhattan by storm with his incredibly successful advertising campaign for the shoe store I. Miller and Sons. Golden Shoe is the result of the encounter between lavish exotic décor, starry mid-1950s glamour and the newborn culture of mass-media, all brought together by Warhol’s imagination and impressive draftsmanship.
Golden Shoe anticipates the innovative techniques that would, a few years later, make Warhol one of the biggest stars of the Pop Art scene. Dutch metal, a bronze leaf similar to gold leaf, is glued to the paper with Sobo craft glue, mimicking the reflective texture, tactile delicacy and glamorous radiance of real shoe leather. Furthermore, Warhol’s blotted linework, on top of which is placed the collaged bronze leaf and trim, can be viewed as a hand-drawn precursor to the serialization permitted by the silkscreen printing process he later became famous for. The drawing technique used in Golden Shoe involves a transfer of ink between various layers of increasingly absorbent paper – a process recalling printing and resulting in dotted, broken, and delicate lines, characterized by a painterly edge, particularly visible on the pointed toe of the slipper in Golden Shoe.
Encapsulating Warhol’s reflection on the ephemeral splendour of fame, Golden Shoe embodies the connection between gold and celebrity, as remarked by Crone: ‘the technique of applying gold leaf in the portrait of a star or in the shape of a shoe or boot, in its formal constituent relationship with gold star clothing, should be seen as a significant feature of the social phenomenon of stars... Warhol's portraits of stars, in 1956, reveal that he was one of the very first artists to reflect on this frequently mentioned relationship between myth and star’ (R. Crone, Andy Warhol: A Picture Show by the Artist, New York, 1987, p. 68). Andrews is transformed, in this process, into a mass-produced commodity wrapped in deceptively shining material, in a similar way to Warhol’s iconic Marilyns from the early 1960s. Warhol’s portrayal of Andrews as an elegant, gilded slipper betrays his early romantic perception of celebrity that would eventually give way to the pursuit of impersonality in his representation of stardom.