Waldo, the cartoon protagonist of the famed Where’s Waldo? series, has more in common with Andy Warhol, the godfather of Pop art, than is immediately obvious. Aside from their shared penchant for striped shirts, they both had devoted fan clubs of sorts: Warhol, in the Warhol Superstars; Waldo, in the “Wally Watchers.” They both felt most at home in crowds of colorful characters: Warhol, in the drag queens, speed freaks, and artists of the downtown scene; Waldo in his adventures through “clown towns” and “paradise parties.” They both had nemeses: Warhol, in radical playwright Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM manifesto, who tried to murder him; Waldo, in Odlaw, whose “bad deeds are many.” And they both became household names by virtue of mass-produced visual artworks that riff on pop culture: Warhol, with his silkscreens of soup, sensational news, and celebrities; Waldo, with books like Where’s Waldo in Hollywood?
So it makes sense that mimicking Where’s Waldo’s cheery clusterfuck aesthetic turns out to be a perfect way to illustrate the artist’s world. In Where’s Warhol?, published by Laurence King, a tiny cartoon Andy — with his silver wig, striped shirt, leather jacket, and sunglasses — hides in colorful scenes packed with art historical references.
Written by Catherine Ingram and illustrated by Andrew Rae, it’s an art history primer like no other, one that doubles as a work of art in itself. Here, time-traveling Warhol lurks in Washington Square Park with Basquiat; watches Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel; and hangs out at the Temple of Isis at Pompeii, which inspired his 1985 Mount Vesuvius silkscreens. He pays visits to the Bauhaus, Marie Antoinette’s execution, a Frida Kahlo Retrospective, and Groovy Bob’s art scene. The disco at Studio 54 teems with characters from Warhol’s milieu: Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Basquiat, Keith Haring. Famous artists, alive and dead, fill the “Garden of Artistic Delights,” based on the Hieronymus Bosch painting: Salvador Dali emerges from a clamshell, Marcel Duchamp stands in a giant urinal, Grayson Perry as Claire frolics in the grass. This game of celebrity-spotting is a perfect analogue for Warhol’s society voyeurism. In the back of the book, Ingram, an art historian, identifies all the figures camouflaged into the scenes and outlines their significance and relationships to Warhol’s life and work.
As in the original Where’s Waldo? books, the beauty is in the density of detail. Rae, a member of the London-based illustration collective Peepshow, adapts the style of Martin Handford, creator of Where’s Waldo?, in elegant, simple lines and vibrant color. You’re guaranteed to discover odd characters you hadn’t noticed during the first, second, third reading, and to forget where you found Warhol the first time. That makes it double as a visual meditation, a kind of eye-training exercise — how often do you pore obsessively over an illustration in a picture book?
Too often, art historical texts suck the soul out of their subjects with dry overanalysis, making the art world seem more rarefied and art in general seem more impenetrable than it actually is. Disguised as just a cute picture book, Where’s Warhol is an antidote to this kind of artspeak-y pretension. Its accessibility mirrors that of Warhol’s work: Pop, colorful, playful, it’s something even non-art nerds might enjoy reading, perhaps while sitting under a Campbell’s Soup Can poster.