After arriving in New York from Pittsburgh in 1949, Warhol established himself as a commercial artist. During the 1950s, he worked with numerous art directors and photographers and won an account with the I. Miller shoe company to produce drawings advertising their footwear. A gifted draughtsman, he developed a distinctive blotted-line technique that involved inking over an original drawing then placing a sheet of paper over it to take an imprint. From this commercial experience he learned how to make an image sell. Looking back on the period, he commented: ‘The process of doing work in commercial art was machine-like, but the attitude had feeling to it.’

From the worlds of advertising and fashion he took many of the ideas and production techniques that would come to characterise his revolutionary brand of Pop art. This selection of early drawings includes both commercial illustrations and more experimental work. They reveal key themes that were to concern him throughout his life, including homoeroticism, celebrity, consumerism, car crashes, and the glamour of gold. Though Warhol was extremely successful as an illustrator and had numerous exhibitions in New York, his fanciful depictions of young men and shoes found little acceptance among the art world.