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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

More than twenty years after his death, Andy Warhol remains one of the most influential figures in contemporary art and culture. His impact as an artist is far deeper and greater than his one prescient observation that “everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” His omnivorous curiosity resulted in an enormous body of work that spanned every available medium and most importantly contributed to the collapse of boundaries between high and low culture. 

 

The youngest child of three, Andy was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in the working-class neighborhood of Oakland, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Stricken at an early age with a rare neurological disorder, the young Andy Warhol found solace and escape in the form of popular celebrity magazines and DC comic books, imagery he would return to years later. Andy experimented with inventing personae during his college years, and ultimately dropping the “a” from his last name, shortly after moving to New York and following his graduation with a degree in Pictorial Design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949. 

 

Within a year of arriving in New York, Warhol garnered top assignments as a commercial artist for a variety of clients including Columbia Records, Glamour magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, NBC, Tiffany & Co., Vogue, and others. He also designed fetching window displays for Bonwit Teller and I. Miller department stores. After establishing himself as an acclaimed graphic artist, Warhol turned to painting and drawing in the 1950s, and in 1952 he had his first solo exhibition at the Hugo Gallery, with Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote. As he matured, his paintings incorporated photo-based techniques he developed as a commercial illustrator. The Museum of Modern Art (among others) took notice, and in 1956 the institution included his work in his first group show.

 

In the 1960s and early 1970s Warhol produced his most iconic works. Building on the emerging movement of Pop Art, wherein artists used everyday consumer objects as subjects, Warhol started painting readily found, mass-produced objects, drawing on his extensive advertising background. Iconic subjects included Campbells Soup Can, Marilyn Monroe, Dollar Sign, Disasters, and Coca Cola Bottle


Operating out of a silver-painted and foil-draped studio nicknamed The Factory, Warhol embraced work in film and video. He made his first films with a newly purchased Bolex camera in 1963 and began experimenting with video as early as 1965. With sold out screenings in New York, Los Angeles, and Cannes, the split-screen, pseudo documentary Chelsea Girls (1966) brought new attention to Warhol from the film world. Warhol would make nearly 600 films and nearly 2500 videos. Among these are the 500, 4-minute films that comprise Warhol’s Screen Tests, which feature unflinching portraits of friends, associates and visitors to the Factory, all deemed by Warhol to be in possession of “star quality”.

 

Warhol continued to make sculptures (including the well-known screenprinted boxes with the logos of Brillo and Heinz Ketchup) prints, and films. During this time he also produced the traveling multi-media spectacle The Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground and Nico.

 

In 1968 Warhol suffered a nearly fatal gun-shot wound from aspiring playwright and radical feminist author, Valerie Solanas. Some point to the shock of this event was a factor in Warhol's increasingly distant persona and seems to have prompted him to document his life to an ever more obsessive degree. He would dictate every activity, including noting the most minor expenses, and employ interns and assistants to transcribe the content of what would amount to over 3,400 audio tapes. Portions of these accounts were published posthumously in 1987 as The Warhol Diaries.

 

Warhol co-founded Interview Magazine; appeared on television in a memorable episode of The Love Boat; painted an early computer portrait of singer Debbie Harry; designed Grammy-winning record covers for The Rolling Stones; signed with a modeling agency; contributed short films to Saturday Night Live; and produced Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and Andy Warhol’s TV, his own television programs for MTV and cable access. He also developed a strong business in commissioned portraits, becoming highly sought after for his brilliantly-colored paintings of politicians, entertainers, sports figures, writers, debutantes and heads of state. 

 

On February 22, 1987, while in recovery from a routine operation, Andy Warhol died. Following burial in Pittsburgh, thousands of mourners paid their respects including artists Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring, and entertainer Liza Minnelli. Readings were contributed by Yoko Ono and Factory collaborator and close friend, Brigid Berlin.

 

Source: Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts