Among the many unique figures who were a part of the Factory scene, few were as truly close to Andy Warhol as Ronnie Cutrone. Arriving on the scene in 1965, still a high school student, Cutrone performed with the rock group Exploding Plastic Inevitable, before they evolved into the legendary Velvet Underground. Ronnie worked closely with Warhol, helping to launch Interview magazine, as well as seminal design venues, such as the Mudd Club. From 1972 until 1982, Cutrone was Warhol’s assistant, indispensable in creating a body of work with Warhol during that ten-year span. Furthermore, his use of bright and fluorescent colours in his own work encouraged Andy Warhol’s return to such hues of heightened artificiality.
Cutrone’s personal artwork is indebted to Pop Art, but very much its own animal, bereft of the satirical re-appropriation that was exemplified by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann and others. Cutrone’s many cartoon characters were icons, representing archetypal figures and ideas, updating and modernizing the religious painting. In a telling quote, Cutrone stated, “Everything is a cartoon for me. The ancient manuscripts are taken very seriously but they are really cartoons.” Superman, Woody Woodpecker, Fritz The Cat, and others were all employed by Ronnie not as objects of re-appropriation for decorative ends, but as vehicles to express the personalities their characters represented. By using established comic characters Cutrone rephrased themes of originality and authorship, low-brow taste and fine art. It is Cutrone’s unique usage of the cartoon that separates him from the Pop Artists, something defined by many as Post-Pop.
With the burgeoning Tony Shafrazi Gallery as cynosure, Cutrone, Keith Haring, Donald Baechler and Jonathan Lasker first appeared together in a formidable group show in October of 1981. Shafrazi was the touchstone for many essential young New York artists to whom Graffiti was, if not a way of life, at the very least an undeniable influence. With Cutrone as a key early roster member, Shafrazi went on to also include Kenny Scharf, John Ahearn and Jean-Michel Basquiat among his ranks.
As much as Warhol treated Ronnie as a son and trusted assistant, Cutrone returned the favour to several young artists coming to prominence in New York City during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Ronnie Cutrone was the linchpin figure who blazed the path that made it possible for new paintings again in New York, even post-Warhol and post-Pop. He showed a way to embrace the influence of one’s past yet push on into the new. Whether any of the young, gifted artists of the day came to know Ronnie personally, or simply knew him through his work, his importance as mentor and artist opened the door for a renaissance of downtown artists, beginning in the early 80’s and continuing onto today.
Public collections include
Boymans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York
Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands
Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles
Morton G.Neumann Family Collection, Chicago
Museum Ludwig, Colonia
Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Eli Broad Family Foundations, Los Angeles
Whitney Museum of Art, New York