ANDY WARHOL: Redefining Art with Pop Culture

Portrait-collage of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol - photo by World of faces

Early Life

Portrait of Andy Warhol – Photo by 1stdibs

This modern artist was born Andrew Warhola on the 6th of August 1928, the youngest of three children. Andy Warhol’s parents, Andrej and Julia, were immigrants from the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Slovakia. They lived in a two-room apartment on Orr Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother encouraged his artistic pursuits, giving him his first camera at eight years old.

During his childhood, Warhol suffered from a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary movements, known as St. Vitus dance (Sydenham chorea), Warhol was frequently kept at home. Away from school, Warhol surrounded himself with Hollywood magazines, comic books, and paper cut-outs. It was in these times spent at home that shaped his interests in celebrities and pop culture.

He went to Holmes School while taking the free art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art (Carnegie Institute then), where Joseph Fitzpatrick taught the Tam O’Shanter art classes. He then attended Schenley High School in 1942. At 14, his father died but had left enough money to finance one of the boys’ college education. Recognising Warhol’s potential, the family decided to give him this opportunity to study. Warhol attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1945 to 1949. It was here that he received his formal training in pictorial design.

New York and Success

Truman Capote by Andy Warhol, 1954 – Photo by ArtStack

Andy Warhol moved to New York shortly after graduating and worked as a commercial illustrator. His first project was an illustration for the article “Success is a Job in New York” in Glamour magazine. He removed the last “a” from his last name, turning it into Warhol; a name by which he will be remembered in later years. His immersion in the pop culture of America, combined with his expertise and experience as a commercial artist, was a great influence on his work. His Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote was his first individual show and was exhibited at New York’s Hugo Gallery in 1952. His work was shown in an exhibit in several venues throughout the city, but his most notable exhibitions were shown at the Museum of Modern Art. It was also there, in 1956, that he participated in his first group show.

His success continued throughout the 1950s. As a commercial illustrator, he did projects for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker and other well-known magazines. Warhol also produced window displays as well as advertisements for New York’s local retailers. His blotted line advertisements with I. Miller & Sons caught a lot of attention with its whimsical touch. It gained him notoriety in the city as well as several awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Art Director’s Club. Warhol would pay attention to emerging artists as well. He greatly admired the works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, both of which inspired him to expand his own artistic experiments.

Coca-Cola, 196 by Andy Warhol – Photo by Artimage

Warhol began using comic strips and advertisements in his paintings in the 1960s. The 1961 Coca-Cola was a crucial part of his career, proving that his shift from hand-painted works to silkscreen prints did not happen overnight. A combination of pop and abstraction, the black and grey pieces are sketched before being painted by hand. His transition to photographic silkscreen printing, his most prominent technique, did not happen until 1962. It allowed him to reproduce pop culture images with ease. The year 1962 saw his portrait series of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and other celebrities. On the same year, the Campbell Soup Cans series was produced and exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, his first solo pop art exhibition.

In 1963, he began making box sculptures made from replicas of huge supermarket product boxes and were quite indistinguishable from supermarket counterparts. His Brillo Boxes were piled high and tightly packed. The exhibit resembling a grocery warehouse was first featured at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1964.

A set of Warhol boxes exhibited at the Stable Gallery in 1964 – photo by artbouillon

Warhol also ventured into films during the ’60s. From 1963 to 1968, he created about 600 films. His first was Sleep (1963), a feature-length film of poet John Giorno sleeping. But The Chelsea Girls (1966), a three-hour long, double screen film was his most commercially successful work.

Warhol turned his attention to publishing in the late 1960s to the early 1970s. He co-founded Interview, a film, fashion, and pop-culture magazine that gave him access to celebrities.

Andy Warhol’s Index, his first mass-produced book, was published in 1967, while The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) was published in 1975. Published in 1989, years after his death, was The Andy Warhol Diaries. It chronicled his life from November 24, 1976, through February 17 of 1987. It contained daily conversations with his friend and assistant Pat Hackett, who transcribed their conversations as they went over the events of the previous day.

Andy Warhol, Oxidation Painting (diptych) (1978) – photo by AO Art Observed

Warhol returned to painting in 1970 and continued to produce artwork until 1980. His works during this time often leaned towards abstraction. He created his Oxidation Painting series around this time. The process in creating the series involved urinating on a copper paint canvas. These works echoed the rawness of the drip painting of Jackson Pollock. Through his collaboration with younger, cutting-edge artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente, Warhol gained his critical notoriety. He turned to religious subjects in the last years of his life, merging the impudent with the sacred in his works.

The Legacy of An Iconic Artist

Campbell’s Soup Can, 1962, Oil on canvas – photo by Saatchi Gallery

Andy Warhol was known for his silkscreen prints of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, his Coca-Cola and Campbell soup paintings, his interpretation of Da Vinci’s Last Supper with enlarged brand logos juxtaposed against Jesus and his apostles, and his illustrations in well-known magazines. His work was easily recognisable and appealed to the general public. In his works, he embraced pop culture and commercial processes, challenging the visions and emotions abstractionism conveyed. He was unafraid to experiment with unconventional means and was, therefore, able to create unconventional art. Through the experimentations he did and the artistic risks he took, he became a pioneer of most forms of visual art, as well as a founder of the Pop art movement that challenged the definition of art. His works placed ordinary everyday items front and centre, a reflection of his philosophy.

Warhol’s life can be compared to that of a comet: it burned bright albeit briefly. The artist and icon died at age 58 on February 22, 1987, after suffering from a complication after undergoing a routine gall bladder procedure. Warhol’s memorial service in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral was attended by over 2,000 people.

The Warhol Foundation dedicated to the advancement of visual arts was created sometime after his death. The Warhol Museum, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, houses a large collection of his works. It was opened in 1994 through the joint effort of The Warhol Foundation, Dia Center for the Arts, Carnegie Institute, and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.