Andy Warhol Barbie Painting featured BillyBoy*


Why Andy Warhol painted Barbie

The pop artist Andy Warhol made his name creating images of iconic American names and brands, from Elvis to Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe to Micky Mouse – not to mention soup cans, Coke bottles and dollar bills. The last of these works, painted in the year before he died, was a portrait of his muse, a 23-year-old jewellery designer called BillyBoy* – in the form of a Barbie doll.

Andy Warhol Barbie Painting featured BillyBoy*’s portrait who categorically refused to have it done, but not many people would have turned down the chance to have their portrait created by Warhol.

“For many, many, many years he wanted to do a painting of me. And for some reason I didn’t appreciate that idea,” Billy explains.

“I felt it was futile. It would really get on my nerves that he just insisted and insisted on doing this painting, and sometimes we would argue about it.”

Warhol had met Billy as a teenager in New York in the 1970s. The pair would be found at the fanciest bars in the city, or on shopping trips where Billy would choose stylish outfits for the artist. In his diaries, Warhol, commends the young designer for his “good eye” and his skill in picking out “the good stuff”.

And it was on one of these shopping trips, to the 23rd Street Flea Market in Manhattan, that Billy finally relented to Warhol’s demands for a portrait – in a way, under the condition that Warhol painted Barbie, as BillyBoy*’s portrait.

“Out of annoyance I said to him, ‘Well if you really want to do my portrait, do a portrait of Barbie because Barbie, c’est moi.

“He took it literally. He took a Barbie that I had given him and turned it into a portrait and called it ‘Portrait of BillyBoy*’.”

By the mid-1980s BillyBoy* was synonymous with Barbie. He owned tens of thousands of the dolls.

A 1984 project had seen his collection dressed by the most famous fashion designers of the day, including Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Kenzo. A major exhibition of the dolls followed – installed in a TGV train, it toured France and stopped in all major cities, drawing thousands of visitors.

Then, BillyBoy* designed two Barbie dolls for Mattel – Le Nouveau Theatre De La Mode and Feelin’ Groovy Barbie. He was the first designer to have his name written on her box.

“If you speak to most collectors today who are middle-aged, they’ll all say they started collecting Barbie in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and that comes directly from my influence,” says BillyBoy*.

Warhol’s 1986 painting, Barbie, Portrait of BillyBoy* shows Barbie with blonde hair and bright blue eyes, against a powder blue background, which Warhol dubbed “Billy Boy blue”. Andy Warhol Barbie Painting featured BillyBoy*’s portrait again in a later version of the same painting, simply titled Barbie, switching the blue for red.


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I Love Warhol

I Love Warhol