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At home with Warhol: in his droll new children's book, illustrator James Warhola recalls the fun of visiting his uncle, Andy Warhol.

Uncle Andy's is a colorful children's picture book that doubles as an affectionate portrait of its title character, the iconic pop artist Andy Warhol. Subtitled A Faabbbulous Visit With Andy Warhol, Uncle Andy's (Putnam, $16.99) is inspired by real-life experiences--told by Warhol's actual nephew James Warhola, an illustrator who retains the family name's original trailing a.

James's father, Andy's eldest brother, Paul, ran a salvage business near Pittsburgh. The book recounts one of many surprise visits that James and his family made to Andy's house in New York City.

"My dad always made a point of coming up to check in on [my grandmother] and visit my uncle," says Warhola. "Every three or four months he would just announce, `Time to go to New York.' They really liked surprises, so his intentions were always to surprise them." Told through James's 7-year-old eyes, this visit takes place in 1962, the year Warhol unveiled his 32-canvas painting Campbell's Soup Cans.

Paul usually brought Andy a piece of junk as an artistic offering. Still, Warhola says, "I don't think any of us from the family really understood [Warhol's pop art]." Nor did they fully understand him as a person: "There was a certain amount of sheltering us from the wild life. Quite often he wouldn't even mention that he had any kind of family."

Warhol's silence extended to sexuality. Though he saw his family often and lived with his mother for years, "we didn't really know he was gay," says Warhola, who's heterosexual. "He kept it kind of private, that aspect of his life."

Uncle Andy's places Warhol in art history, but in the context of everyday moments. In illustrations James wakes up in a room stacked with painted soup-can boxes; Warhola's sister discovers Andy without his wig, causing the artist to "let out a shriek"; James helps Andy with a giant paint-by-number sailboat picture.

Andy's influence on James's art is another of the book's themes. Warhol was "really inspirational to me as an artist," says Warhol. "I knew he was a famous artist, and I really admired him for it. I tried to emulate him in many ways." He remembers watching Andy at work: "His drawings were like poetry."

At least one of Warhol's gifts to his family has proved to be more valuable than he could have known. Campbell's Soup Can: Pepper Pot, which Warhol painted for his brother Paul in 1961, sold at auction in 2002 for more than $1.2 million. Even split nine ways, among James, his parents, and his six brothers and sisters, that's a faabbbulous chunk of change.

Dehnart has written for Salon.com.
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Author:Dehnart, Andy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 15, 2003
Words:439
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