In this centennial summer of Andrew Wyeth’s birth, with a slew of celebratory events including the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s retrospective featuring his rarely seen works, and the issuing of Wyeth-themed stamps by the United States Postal Service, Mr. Wyeth has returned to Warhol as a portrait subject, plumbing the person behind the persona.
Mr. Wyeth relied on his detailed sketches from 1976 (“I even measured the length of his fingers”) for one of these new portraits — done on a screen door in a seeming nod to Mr. Warhol’s own conceptual playfulness — that now hangs in the Brandywine. A study for the same painting hangs in Mr. Wyeth’s living room, looking out at the surrounding sea of canvases by the extended Wyeth family. Unlike the finished version, however, this study shifts its focal point to Mr. Warhol’s beloved dachshund Archie, second only to Pablo Picasso’s Lump in modern art’s dachshund hall of fame.
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Why focus on Archie instead of Andy?
JAMIE WYETH Archie meant a huge amount to Andy. He carried that dog everywhere, even to Studio 54! So he became Andy personified, without the makeup and the wig.
Did the two begin to act alike?
WYETH Archie was a mirror of his boss. He’d sit there and stare at people. And just like Andy, he didn’t say a word. When Andy would be here, people would say, ‘I just had the most interesting conversation with your friend Warhol.’ And I know that his end of the conversation was three words: ‘Hello. Oh? Really?’
Given your differences, why did Warhol gravitate toward you?
WYETH He wanted young people around. The theory people have is that’s why he let me work with him, and why he later had [Jean-Michel] Basquiat come around. That’s why the kids he worked with called him Drella — part Cinderella, part Dracula. He was getting much more out of you than you were getting out of him.
So what did you get, as an artist?
WYETH I was fascinated by this creature. Him posing for me and my being able to do all these drawings of him was enough.
What did you think of the portrait Warhol painted of you?
WYETH It made me look a bit too glamorous. But he told me that as a child his favorite toys were paper dolls. Well, if you look at his portraits, they’re all paper dolls. The eyes are cut out and everybody is made to look pretty. When he did Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, it was out of love for them. It wasn’t being cute or edgy. He…