Andy Warhol: The Life and Art of the Prince of Pop
Andy Warhol created the most sensational and often controversial art of the 1960's. He appropriated images that Americans knew and loved--like Campbell's soup cans and Coca-Cola--and transformed them into radical and enduring works of art. Andy's art did not give us answers; instead, it raised questions. He gave us a shocking look at what constitutes who we are. In grasping the essence of Pop Art, Warhol's work is completely about the spirit of culture in modern society.
Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928, to a poverty-stricken immigrant family. Having no money to buy toys, Andy's mother encouraged him and his two brothers to draw. Little Andrew took to it immediately, impressing his family with his pictures. His father, a factory worker, had only enough money to send one child to college. He began to save his pennies so that Andrew could be the first of the Warhola's to attend college.
At age eight, Andrew was diagnosed with a nervous disorder called St. Vitus's Dance, which made his limbs shake uncontrollably, and turned his skin ghost-white. Later in life, it also made his hair fall out (hence the white wigs). He was ridiculed in school, and became a loner, always opting to watch, rather than partake in fun activities.
«In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.» - Andy Warhol
Andy's fame as an artist lasted longer than fifteen minutes. It began at Carnegie University in Pittsburgh, where he learned valuable lessons in getting attention. He was a shy person and loved to observe people. He studied them from the sidelines, painting portraits of his classmates, which quickly earned him an entourage of friends. It was also in college that he submitted a painting to an art contest; it was a grotesque image of a man picking his nose. Although the painting was immediately withdrawn from the contest, he hung it on the wall at school, and students flocked to see it. It was then that he learned that controversy pays.
In 1949 he moved to Manhattan to pursue his lifelong dream of money and fame as a commercial artist. In less than a week, he landed his first account with Glamour magazine, entitled «Success is a Job in New York.» It was an editorial error in that article that gave him his new name. It mistakenly appeared as Andy Warhol. He liked it, and decided to keep it.
Throughout the 1950's, Andy worked for several different magazines, and made window displays for retail stores. He was one of the first artists to understand the importance of marketing and the media. It served him well, making him one of the highest paid commercial artists in New York.
«Once you got Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.» - Andy Warhol, 1980
The 1960's were a prolific decade for Andy Warhol. He was determined to break out of the world of commercial art, and into the league of fine artists. At the time, the world of fine art was dominated by Abstract Expressionism, which featured unrecognizable scribbles on a canvas, in an attempt to convey an emotion. Pop Art was a revolt against Abstract Expressionism, and pop artists focused on the world outside of themselves. They exploited superficial images of a prosperous post-war America, and turned them into vibrant, consumer driven art. Andy was one of the leaders in Pop Art.
In addition to painting, Andy began to silkscreen his art figures. His first images of society's stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Jackie Onassis, were immediate successes. He bought a building and started «The Factory,» with an entourage of artists mass-producing his work. One could buy them small, medium or large (priced accordingly, of course), or even 100 multiplied on one canvas.
One cannot help but wonder if Warhol anticipated the highly charged reactions to his choice of subjects, showing the figures who had touched the lives of the American public, whose real-life tragedies had stirred the emotions of all those who had «known» them. Whatever his intent, Andy's dream of fame and riches had come true, as he immediately became as well-known as the stars he painted.
«If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it.» - Andy Warhol, 1987
Although Warhol himself neither offered nor refuted any explanation of his art, it seemed at times as if he was trying to expose our most hidden sides, and satisfy our secret curiosities. Works such as Electric Chair (1967), Five Deaths (1962), White Burning Car (1963), all from his «Death and Disaster» series, were disturbing, yet fascinating at the same time. Electric Chair appeared at the very moment when Americans were hotly debating the morality of the death penalty. It constitutes one of the most powerful images in 20th-century American art. Five Deaths depicted people bloody and dying, trapped
Under a wrecked car. Some say the picture reflected society by sending the message: «Here we are, with our love of money and big beautiful things; and here is what is does to us.» White Burning Car, shows a car in flames, and a dead man hanging from a nearby tree. In the background, there is a man leisurely walking by, paying no attention to the catastrophe. This work unmistakably rubbed society's indifference right in their faces. People looked at it in horror, forced to see a part of themselves they chose not to acknowledge.
«They're experimental films; I call them that because I don't know what I'm doing. I'm interested in audience reaction to my films...» - Andy Warhol, 1967
In 1965, Andy announced his retirement from painting (which he later revoked), in order to concentrate on filmmaking. His films, like his art, broke all the rules. They did not have a plot or script, and were often visually unfocused. Two of his most popular films were entitled Sleep, and Blow Job. Sleep was a five-hour film of his male friend sleeping in the nude. Blow Job depicted only the face of a man receiving fellatio. Another, Empire, was merely eight ours of the Empire State Building against a dark sky. One could say that Andy's films were the 1960's version of the web cam.
During this time, the factory had gotten out of control. Although Andy never took drugs, his entourage indulged in them. It was a never-ending party of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. The band he managed (and formed at the factory), called The Velvet Underground, would often play there. But in 1968, the party stopped, as someone walked
In that changed Andy's life and art forever.
Valerie Solanis, a groupie from the factory, and the founder and sole member of S. C. U. M. (Society for Cutting Up Men), walked into Andy's office and shot him three times. The first two shots missed, but the third was fired point blank into Andy's chest. Andy was pronounced dead at the hospital, then later revived. He was hospitalized for months, and was forced to wear a painful corset for the rest of his life. When asked why she did it, Valerie said, «He had too much control over my life.» She also blamed him for losing the only copy of her masterpiece, so eloquently entitled Up Your Ass.
It was years before Warhol was back in action. He had not recovered mentally from the shooting and had become paranoid. He shut down the old factory, and purchased a new building, hiring business-minded men to run it. But the toll of Andy's shooting was too much for his mother to bear, as she developed a heart condition soon after. She was his first assistant, and had lived with him for twenty years, always doting on Andy. Julia Warhola died in 1974, devastating him even more.
«Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.» - Andy Warhol
During the decade of the 1970's, Andy devoting his attention to making money. He began publishing Interview magazine, which is still in circulation today. He also returned to painting, focusing mostly on silkscreens of celebrities and other well-known people. Partying and networking was what Andy loved. He was a regular at New York clubs such as Studio54, and was always surrounded by celebrities. They flocked to him, and it was often said that you were not a star until you had the «Andy Stamp.» There was not a price too high to pay for Andy Warhol to take their picture and paint them blue and green. The awkward-looking, shy man, who rarely spoke, was loved by all.
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