I have finally gone and done it – writing about Andy Warhol wasn’t exactly top of my list when I started this blog. I know the man had a long and well recorded history in the arts and that he put a lot of emphasis on money. I’m hoping to find out that there was something more to his art. Wishful thinking maybe?
Andrew Warhola, better known as Andy Warhol was born on the 6th of August 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the fourth child of coal miner Andrij Warhola and his wife Julia. His parents were working-class Rusyns (or Lemkos) emigrants from Mikó (now called Miková), located in today’s northeastern Slovakia, part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Warhol’s father immigrated to the US in 1914, and his mother joined him in 1921, after the death of Warhol’s grandparents.
In third grade, Warhol had chorea, the nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities, which is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever and causes blotchiness on the skin. He became a hypochondriac, developing a fear of hospitals and doctors. Often bed-ridden as a child, he became an outcast at school and bonded with his mother. At times when he was confined to bed, he drew, listened to the radio and collected pictures of movie stars around his bed. Warhol later described this period as very important in the development of his personality, skill-set and preferences. When Warhol was 13, his father died in an accident.
Warhol showed early artistic talent and studied commercial art at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now Carnegie Mellon University). In 1949, he moved to New York City and began a career in magazine illustration and advertising. During the 1950s, he gained fame for his whimsical ink drawings of shoe advertisements for I. Miller.
His first one-man art-gallery exhibition as a fine artist was on July 9, 1962, in the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles. The exhibition marked the West Coast debut of pop art. Andy Warhol’s first New York solo pop exhibit was hosted at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in November 1962. It was during the 1960s that Warhol began to make paintings of iconic American products such as Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles, as well as paintings of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Troy Donahue, Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Taylor. He also used imagery like newspaper headlines or photographs of mushroom clouds, electric chairs, and police dogs attacking civil rights protesters.
He founded his studio “The Factory” during these years, and gathered around himself a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities. He began producing prints using the silkscreen method, slowly phasing out the handmade element to his art which became both popular and controversial. Warhol employed several assistants to produce his prints for him.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art hosted a Symposium on pop art in December 1962 during which artists like Warhol were attacked for “capitulating” to consumerism. Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture. This symposium set the tone for Warhol’s reception. A pivotal event was the 1964 exhibit The American Supermarket, a show held in Paul Bianchini’s Upper East Side gallery. The show was presented as a typical U.S. small supermarket environment, except that everything in it – from the produce, canned goods, meat, posters on the wall, etc. – was created by six prominent pop artists of the time, among them the controversial (and like-minded) Billy Apple, Mary Inman, and Robert Watts. Warhol’s painting of a can of Campbell’s soup cost $1,500 while each autographed can sold for $6. The exhibit was one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the perennial question of what art is.
During the ’60s, Warhol also groomed a retinue of bohemian eccentrics upon whom he bestowed the designation “Superstars”, including Nico, Joe Dallesandro, Edie Sedgwick, Viva, Ultra Violet, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling. These people all participated in the Factory films, and some – like Berlin – remained friends with Warhol until his death. Important figures in the New York underground art/cinema world, such as writer John Giorno and film-maker Jack Smith, also appear in Warhol films of the 1960s, revealing Warhol’s connections to a diverse range of artistic scenes during this time.
On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and art critic and curator Mario Amaya at Warhol’s studio. Before the shooting, Solanas had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. She authored the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, a separatist feminist attack on males. Solanas appears in the 1968 Warhol film I, a Man. Earlier on the day of the attack, Solanas had been turned away from the Factory after asking for the return of a script she had given to Warhol. Amaya received only minor injuries and was released from the hospital later the same day. Warhol however, was seriously wounded by the attack and barely survived. He suffered physical effects for the rest of his life and the incident would have a profound effect on Warhol’s life and art.
Compared to the success and scandal of Warhol’s work in the 1960s, the 1970s were a much quieter decade, as Warhol became more entrepreneurial. According to Bob Colacello, Warhol devoted much of his time to rounding up new, rich patrons for portrait commissions– including Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, his wife Empress Farah Pahlavi, his sister Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, Diana Ross, and Brigitte Bardot. Warhol’s famous portrait of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong was created in 1973. He also founded, with Gerard Malanga, Interview magazine, and published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975).
Warhol had a re-emergence of critical and financial success in the 1980s, partially due to his affiliation and friendships with a number of prolific younger artists, who were dominating the “bull market” of ’80s New York art: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, David Salle and other so-called Neo-Expressionists, as well as members of the Transavantgarde movement in Europe, including Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi.
By this period, Warhol was being criticized for becoming merely a “business artist”. In 1979, reviewers disliked his exhibits of portraits of 1970s personalities and celebrities, calling them superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects. They also criticized his 1980 exhibit of 10 portraits at the Jewish Museum in New York, entitled Jewish Geniuses, which Warhol – who was uninterested in Judaism and Jews – had described in his diary as “They’re going to sell.” In hindsight, however, some critics have come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as “the most brilliant mirror of our times,” contending that “Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s.”
Warhol died in New York City on February 22nd, 1987. According to news reports, he had been making good recovery from a routine gallbladder surgery at New York Hospital before dying in his sleep.
The Artists Rights Society is the U.S. copyright representative for the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for all Warhol works with the exception of Warhol film stills. The U.S. copyright representative for Warhol film stills is the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Additionally, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has agreements in place for its image archive. All digital images of Warhol are exclusively managed by Corbis, while all transparency images of Warhol are managed by Art Resource.
My favourite images: