Andy Warhol was one of the most prolific and certainly one of the most popular artists of his time. He is known as a leading figure in the visual art movement known as Pop Art, drawing inspiration from popular and commercial culture. Focusing primarily on paintings, photography, and screen printing, Warhol quickly became one of the most successful artists in New York City and won many awards, including the Film Culture Magazine Award and the Art Director’s Club award.
On August 6th, 1928, Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, making him the youngest of three boys. His parents, Julia and Andrej Warhola, immigrated from Slovak Republic to the United States. At the age of eight, Andy Warhol became sick with chorea and experienced involuntary spasms. During this time, he turned to drawing and collecting pictures of celebrities to pass the time. This blossoming interest in art and celebrities led to a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Carnegie institute for Technology, which led to a job as a commercial artist for Glamour magazine (Magill).
One thing to be known about Andy Warhol is that he was very much intrigued by eccentric and provocative celebrities. In 1964, Warhol opened his art studio, known as The Factory. Celebrities like Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and many more were regular visitors. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by the assumptions that rich kids make,’ Warhol said. ‘A lot of them think it’s normal, the way they live – because it’s all they’ve ever known. I love to watch their minds operate.’
Warhol became fascinated by Hollywood icons who lived glamorous lifestyles, such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. He was also infatuated with the carefree lifestyle of rock stars and he painted several portraits of Elvis Presley and of The Rolling Stone’s front-man, Mick Jagger. His portrayal of women as sex objects angered a radical feminist named Valeria Solanas, leading to her shooting and nearly killing Warhol. After admiring the rich and famous for years, being targeted for murder ironically enough solidified his own identity as a glamorous icon (Eileen).
Pop artists like Warhol turned away from tradition, celebrating people of everyday life and has since become the most recognizable styles of modern art. In the 1960s, a group of pop artists, including Andy Warhol, began to imitate comic strips. An American painter named Roy Lichtenstein became notorious for his artwork that was inspired by Warhol, Marvel comic strips, and the Ben-Day dots used in newspaper printing. During the same time period, Andy Warhol was also using images similar to comic strips, which he reproduced row after row, on a single canvas until the image became blurred and faded (Tate). Their artwork fed off one another, and they both created beautiful artwork. In fact, in the spring of 1962, Warhol saw Lichenstein’s comic-strip paintings at Leo Castelli Gallery, which then inspired his signature painting “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.” However, Lichtenstein’s artwork had no darkness to it like Warhol’s did. In Warhol’s Disasters series, he startled the world with his photographs of suicide leaps, fatal car-crashes and electric chairs (Smart). Meanwhile, many of Lichtenstein’s upbeat pieces mirror the same interests as America’s average Joe.
James Rosenquist is another American pop art painter who was inspired by Andy Warhol. He is best known for his colossal collage paintings of partial, random images. Like many Pop artists, his artwork was borrowed largely from the mass media. Rosenquist’s seemingly unrelated pictures of products and celebrities hint at the artist’s social, political and cultural concerns (Souter). In his mural titled “F-111,” Rosenquist features a 73-foot-long F-111 fighter plane joined by images inspired by billboards and the media. Among these images are a tire, a cake, spaghetti, a light bulb, and a beach umbrella placed on an atomic explosion, making reference to a military saying: “nuclear umbrella.” In differentiation, much of Warhol’s work had no deep, hidden meaning like Rosenquist’s. He simply created art based off of what he liked, such as Campbell soup, Coca-Cola, and celebrities. Warhol states, “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you used every day and never think about.”
Coming from a poor family in industrial Pittsburg, Warhol made it no secret that he loved money. In 1962, his painting “200 One Dollar Bills” was created, prompting his exploration into the silk-screening process. But in 1981, Warhol reinvented the dollar sign with vibrant hues and layered energy in his work titled, “Dollar Signs.” Warhol’s revisitation of the dollar sign feels as though he’s celebrating his mastery over the silk-screening process. The striking colors and rhythmic repetition of the single dollar sign reflect society’s, and Warhol’s, desire to obtain insatiable amounts of wealth.
Completed just months before his sudden death in 1987, Warhol’s final self-portrait series is considered to represent his most deeply personal revelations. In “Six Self-Portraits,” Warhol assembles six, differently colored variations of a self-portrait, each on 22 x 22-inch canvases. In the portrait, Warhol stares directly out at the viewer with a blank expression on his face, but intent in his eyes. Warhol’s disembodied head takes on the resemblance of a skull, a reminder of death. Warhol’s intense gaze seems to ask the viewer to only examine the surface of his features rather than what they represent. An art historian, Carter Ratcliff argues that, “As blank and anesthetized as his surfaces sometimes are, they hide depths of a traumatized self or a deep sense of the random and depersonalized tragedy of the modern world” (Ratcliff in Shafrazi 2007, p.21). In this series, the viewer can see beneath his carefully crafted fade, revealing humanity and a rarely-seen raw side of Warhol.
Warhol died unexpectedly in New York in 1987 following a gallbladder operation. In his will, he wanted his entire estate to be used to create a new foundation dedicated to the “advancement of the visual arts.” And so the Andy Warhol Foundation was created. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg houses 900 paintings as well as photographs from all stages of the artist’s life and career. (Brown) A visual art and cultural pioneer, Warhol will forever be known for his legacy.