- One Blue Pussy
A big pink cat with orange eyes lounges across the book’s cover (figure 1). Rows of hatched lines cover his body. Running vertically across his belly, over his thigh, and up his arm, they mark him with the pattern of a tabby. And he’s a demure tabby cat at that. His posture is languid, head turned up, body rolled halfway back. It is as though he’s about to flop over and throw his legs up in the air and beg for a belly scratch. I catch him just before this move, and he catches me in the straightforward gaze of his orange eyes. But this tabby isn’t alone in the empty space of the book’s cover. The book’s title, scrawled in the awkward cursive handwriting of Mrs. Warhola—who hand-lettered the text for most of her son’s work at this time—wavers from thick to thin as it curls up around his head. Beside his pink paw is Andy Warhol’s byline. Under his tail, his name: Sam. And in the bottom left corner, in a different ink with a thicker line that is handwritten and not printed, there is another name, a simple inscription: George. Reading this name, I know that I am eavesdropping. Everything about this book—its small size, its soft worn covers, its seductive cat, the personalized handwriting, the multiple names on the cover—tells me that it communicates in a way that places me on the outside. And yet, however personal, it is so charming and silly, so unassuming that it speaks to me, too.
Twenty-Five Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy (1954) exemplifies the faux naiveté and playful femininity of Warhol’s pre-pop work.1 The cats were drawn by using Warhol’s blotted-line technique, printed by offset lithography, and then hand-colored during one of the many coloring parties in which Warhol’s friends—mostly gay men from the advertising, dance, and fashion worlds—would come together at Warhol’s Lexington [End Page 559]
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Avenue apartment or at the café Serendipity on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and sit and chat and hand-color Warhol’s prints.2
The book’s premise is simple. Each page depicts a cat of a different shape and size, hand-colored in a vibrant hue. Pink, red, golden, furry, frontal and in profile, pensive and curious, fat and cuddly, with lots of whiskers or big paws, young and old—the cats are all named Sam. After this sequence of cats named Sam, we find, on the final page of the book, a blue cat with the following text printed below him: “One Blue Pussy” (figure 2). In the same way that a viewer of one of Warhol’s paintings is confronted by the slips and smears of paint that distort the silk-screened image, or in the way that a viewer of one of Warhol’s films might have to endure a thirty-minute reel shot entirely out of focus, a reader of Twenty-Five Cats encounters an array of on-purpose inaccuracies. Not only does the title printed on the book’s cover leave Mrs. Warhola’s spelling error intact—the cats are “name” Sam rather than “named” Sam—the book contains only seventeen Sams, not twenty-five. The missing cats may have been caused by the restrictions of the printing technology used or by the number of pages that the little book could accommodate; or perhaps Warhol intended the mismatch between the book’s title and contents; or, finally, it is equally possible that Warhol never bothered to count the cats and whether the cats’ numbers literally correspond to the title might be an unimportant detail.
The discrepancies between what the book claims to be and what it actually gives readers is fundamental to how it employs the devices of modern print culture to facilitate an alternative scene of sociality. For example...