“For me work is an upper, a great high. I have no personal life. I don’t want it.”
Those could have easily been Andy Warhol’s words, but they were not. Its’ a quote from an interview with art director Reid Miles in People Magazine, in 1978. In the 1950’ies the two workaholics Warhol and Miles joined forces for the design and illustration of no less than six iconic album covers: three for Blue Note records (Kenny Burrell, The Congregation (Johnny Griffin) and Blue Lights (Kenny Burrell, two volumes); and three for Prestige (Trombone By Three, The Story Of Moondog and MONK).
If you ask jazz fans and design lovers, Reid Miles is simply a god. With a daring combination of typography and photo cropping he managed to visualize the sound, rhythms and spirit of jazz. From 1955 until 1967 he designed about 500 landmark covers for Blue Note. And it wasn’t even his day job! Miles designed most album covers in the weekends, and during the week he worked for advertising agencies, and for a couple of years in the design department of Esquire magazine.
It’s very likely that Esquire will have been the place where Reid Miles and Warhol have met. Warhol has done some fashion illustrations for the magazine. In Andy Warhol: The Complete Commissioned Magazine Work (Prestel 2014), Paul Maréchal has catalogued at least 16 issues, dating from 1953 until 1956, with Warhol drawings of men’s fashion like hats, ties, vests, pairs of glasses and so on.
But very little is known about the private life of Reid Miles. And although they made the six album covers together, just as little is known about the work relationship – or friendship? – between Miles and Warhol. Reid Miles isn’t even a footnote in most major Warhol biographies, and no one drops his name in interview books with Warhol’s former friends or co-workers, like Unseen Warhol (O’Connor, Liu) or Warhol, Conversations About The Artist (Smith).
The aim of this post is to collect some random facts involving the Warhol-Miles relationship. I intend to discuss the album covers more in detail in later posts.
1. – Warhol made a golden “Read Miles” shoe
In 1956 Warhol held a fine art gallery show, “The Golden Slipper Show or Shoes Shoe in America”, at the Bodley Gallery from December 3 to 22. One month later, his golden shoes got a spectacular two-page editorial in LIFE magazine (Jan 21, 1957). According to LIFE, Warhol presented “some 40 slippers made entirely of gold leaf, ornamented with candy box decorations (…) priced between $50 and $225.” The author also claimed Warhol “is now busy creating a whole new set of crazy golden slippers”.
Each shoe was named after or dedicated to a public figure, movie star, or one of Warhol’s friends. The names were written in Julia Warhola’s handwriting, Warhol’s mother. Often misspelled, what Warhol seemed to like. In the case of Reid Miles’ shoe, his first name was spelled “Read”. There can be different reasons why Warhol created this piece: out of friendship, out of admiration or… just in the hopes to land some illustration jobs. It is also not known to me if Warhol gave the shoe to Miles as a gift, or if Miles bought it. In 2005 the Read Miles shoe was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York, and fetched $102.000. Provenance given was a “Private collection, California”. Which could very well be from Miles’ estate, since he died in Los Angeles in 1993. Buyer was a New York gallery, which on its turn has found a new buyer, price unknown.
Fun fact about another shoe at the show, dedicated to actress Julie Andrews, then a 21-year old rising star on Broadway who had the lead in the musical My Fair Lady. Andrews did visit the gallery, but decided not to buy the drawing because her first name was spelled incorrectly as ‘Julia’ instead of Julie. A very expensive vowel, because in 2015 the Julia Andrews shoe was auctioned at Christie’s in London, and fetched a whopping £772.500.
2. – Reid Miles posed in the nude for Warhol
David Bourdon, art critic and long time friend of Andy Warhol, wrote in his biography “WARHOL” (Abrams, NY, 1989): “Meanwhile, Warhol parlayed his reputation as a sophisticated draftsman into a manipulative, but surefire way to get attractive young men to strip for him. He experienced little resistance in prodding several friends, including Carlton Willers, Charles Lisanby, and art director Reid Miles, into posing for full-length nude studies. Andy’s approach could be both flattering and suggestive.” (p.55, 1991 softcover ed.)
Indeed, in the Fifties the young Andy Warhol drew hundreds of line portraits in pencil or in ink, of the young men he knew and admired, and secretly or not so secretly had a crush on. Many have been assembled in the recent Taschen publication Andy Warhol: Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings 1950–1962.
I have no idea though, if any drawing of Reid Miles survived. And if they did, how they would look like. Some of these portraits carry the name of the sitter, but most are of an ‘Unidentified man’…
Both in his new biography Warhol and in this great essay in the new Taschen book, author Blake Gopnik describes Warhol’s difficulty to find a gallery that wanted to show the drawings, which were deemed too overtly gay or risqué.
3. – Reid Miles helped to design Warhol’s famous blue/green stationery
Reid Miles used Julia Warhola’s famous handwriting on two album covers for Prestige: The Story of Moondog and MONK. That is widely known, and I will return to this subject in another blog post. But this was a surprise to me: Reid Miles was also involved as ‘art director’ for Warhol’s own green and blue letterheads and envelopes with his mother’s calligraphy.
In the “38th Annual of Advertising and Editorial Art and Design” of the Art Dirctor’s Club of New York – published in 1959 with graphic art from the previous year 1958 – Warhol’s stationery can be found as entry 214, in the category Letterheads and Trade Marks. Reid Miles is named as art director, Andy Warhol’s Mother as the artist, and Warhol himself as the advertiser.
4. – Warhol helped Reid Miles to land a job
In the Fifties and Sixties Reid Miles worked for a lot of different ad agencies, but mostly those jobs were short lived. Miles was quite stubborn, and not very happy with the artistic restrictions imposed in the advertising world.
Wayne Adams, who worked at the Reid Miles Studio in Hollywood, recalls him saying: “They would hire you for the strength of your portfolio, and then ask you to do crap! At one point in New York, I’d been in and out so many agencies that Andy Warhol pleaded with Margaret Hockaday to give me a job. I was at her agency for a couple of years, when I slipped off in a client meeting. I’m no politician. The next day Margaret, the perfect, controlled lady, gave me the word, “Reid, maybe you belong in your own business.” New York taught me to scream. That’s its claim to fame.” (Blue Note: The Album Cover Art part 2. Edited by Graham Marsh and Glyn Callingham. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1997)
The only long lasting jobs Reid Miles ever had were the Blue Note assignment, where he had full artistic freedom, and later when he had his own studio in California from 1971 on, where he was his own boss. (He then had a completely different and very lucrative carreer with his wild photoshoots and tv ads, staged in a nostalgic Norman Rockwell Americana style. And did album covers for Chicago, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan… But that is a completely different story).
5. – Reid Miles gave Warhol a commission for Columbia (but it was rejected)
In 1961-1962 Reid Miles was art director for an “in-house” set of brochures for the employees of Columbia Records: “Your Columbia Records Personnel Library”. It was a box with little brochures, each one on a different topic and illustrated by a different designer (Robert Cato, Milton Glaser, to just name a few).
Miles gave the commission for the booklet about Major Medical Expense Insurance to Andy Warhol, who made drawings of cats in medical and family situations. Warhol’s contributions, however, were rejected by Columbia because the cat imagery was “too fey”. The booklets were destroyed. Collector and cataloguer Paul Maréchal owns one of the few remaining copies, and has published all illustrations in his catalogue “Les imprimés éphémères de Andy Warhol”, with advertings and other printed works on paper from 1950 until 1987, which accompanied an exhibition on that subject in Lyon, France in 2018.