Illustrator Andy Warhol was, and still remains, one of the most influential, prolific, and popular figures in contemporary art and culture. Born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, it was through drawing lessons from his mother, taking up photography and developing film, free art classes, and studying pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute for Technology that Warhol went from being a successful magazine and ad illustrator to a leading artist of a movement in the 1960s called Pop Art. He is known for delving into a wide variety of art forms – including performance art, video installations, filmmaking, and writing – and blurring the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics despite controversy..
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In 1949, Andy Warhol graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. At this time, he dropped the “a” at the end of his last name (Warhola to Warhol), moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist, and began working with Glamour magazine. Warhol went on to be one of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950s and won several awards for his unique artistic style and discovering the blotted-line technique. Warhol would tape two pieces of blank paper together and then draw in ink on one page. Before the ink finished drying, he would press the two pieces of paper together. This resulted in a picture with irregular lines that he would then color inside with watercolor.
In 1961, moving away from his discovered technique and onto paint and canvas, Andy Warhol began to make a name for himself in “pop art” – a new style of art that focused on mass-produced commercial goods, beginning in England in the mid-1950s. The movement challenged traditions of fine art by focusing on imagery from popular and mass culture. In 1962, he displayed the now-iconic Campbell’s soup cans paintings. Creating a stir in the art world, these paintings brought Warhol and the idea of pop art into national light, as well as other famous pop paintings that depict Coca-Cola bottles, vacuum cleaners, and hamburgers.
Warhol continued into painting celebrity portraits in wild, obtrusively bright colors. Some of his most famous celebrity subjects include Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor. His portrait titled “Eight Elvises” resold for $100 million, becoming one of the most valuable paintings in history.
Andy Warhol opened an art studio in 1964 known as “The Factory.” The warehouse soon became one of New York City’s cultural hotspots. Relishing his celebrity, here Warhol hosted luxurious parties in which only the city’s wealthiest and celebrities could attend. Musician Lou Reed’s hit song “Walk on the Wild Side” tells descriptions of the hustlers and transvestites he had met during parties at the legendary studio/warehouse in the ’60s. Warhol also went on to befriend Reed and manage his band, The Velvet Underground.
In 1968, Warhol was shot and seriously wounded by Valerie Solanas, a pursuing writer. After appearing in one of his films, Solanas became upset over his refusal to use a script that she had written. Warhol spent weeks undergoing several surgeries and recovering in the hospital. Resulting from his injuries, he had to wear a surgical corset for the remainder of his life.
During the 1970’s, Warhol navigated other forms of art and media. He published books, two of his most popular being The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and Exposures. He produced more than 650 films from a range of subjects during his career, including some of his most famous being Sheep, which shoes poet John Giorno sleeping for six hours, and Eat, which is 45 minutes of a man eating a mushroom. He also worked in sculpture, photography, and television, hosting Andy Warhol’s TV and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes in the ’80s.
Later in life, Andy Warhol suffered from chronic gall bladder issues. After having his gall bladder removed and seemingly recovering, he suffered complications only days later that resulted in sudden cardiac arrest. He died on February 22, 1987 at age 58, with thousands of people attending a memorial in his honor in New York City.
Warhol’s mysterious personal life has received much debate over the course of time. He is believed to have been a gay man, with art that often portrayed homoerotic imagery. He claimed that he remained a virgin throughout his life.
His life and work both satirized and celebrated materiality and celebrity. His paintings’ focus could be seen as a critique of a money and celebrity obsessed culture. However, that same focus, including his taste for fame and money, suggest a celebration of the American culture that his work seemed to criticize.
Two Famous Works
During the 1960s, the New York art world had hit a dead spot. Abstract expressionism of the 1940s and ’50s had become something of a cliché, and Andy Warhol wanted to bring imagery back through his work. Becoming an overwhelmingly successful consumer ad designer, he used the techniques of his profession in this piece to create a both easily recognizable and visually stimulating image. Because of the American prosperity of that time, Americans were being flooded by consumer goods and ad imagery. Warhol wanted to subtly recreate this through images from advertising and is credited with envisioning a new type of art that praised and criticized the consumption habits of consumers then and today.
While in one of the most creative times in our history, Andy Warhol pushed to continually challenge the status quo through a new medium, film. His films were acclaimed by the art world and are still used as influence in performance and experimental filmmaking today. This six-hour movie is one of his earliest films and eventually led to durational film being a style that he made one of his signatures. It is a detailed film of John Giorno sleeping. Being Warhol’s supposed lover at the time, the viewer sees Giorno through his eyes. It is six one hundred-foot rolls of film layered together and played on repeat. Repetition is at the heart of most of Andy Warhol’s work, through this creating a fascination with the repeating mundane of everyday life and turning it into unique artistic expression. His films are recognized as Pop masterpieces, treasured in film institutes and modern art archives around the world.
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