né Andrej Varhola, Jr (Andy Warhol) was born in 1928 and died in 1987. Warhol is responsible for breaking through from the art gallery to the art of the everyday objects like his “non-art” Campbell’s soup cans and depictions of Marilyn Monroe. He glorified the mundane and kitsch and his works were the beginning of the Pop Art Movement in the USA. He broke the barriers down of artistic elitist works and promoted creativity as an accessible aspect of everyone’s daily lives.
The controversial artist, an ethnic Slovak, was born in Pittsburgh (USA) to Russian immigrant parents. The fourth child in the family, Warhol suffered with nervous system complications as a result of scarlet fever and was bedridden for much of his childhood. Consequently he developed a fear of doctors and hospitals and was a hypochondriac. After graduating from college, Warhol moved to New York where he worked as a commercial artist designing album covers and promotional materials for RCA records. Successful though he was in this arena, his actual fame comes from giving respectability to mass production commercial items which later gained iconic status. His Pop Art presentation of “Campbell Soup Cans” in New York, laid the foundations for a surge from the neglected area of product design. Warhol allowed commercial art to escape the mundane and become a bona fide art form.
To Warhol mass commercialism was a social leveller. His ideas firm that a Coke can drunk by a President is the same as that drunk by a street bum therefore the Coke can becomes the ultimate art work.
Warhol steadily developed a particular style which was different to other Pop artists of the time.
He loved the mundane, routine workaday items and transported these from mass produced street items into iconic art pieces. His works were always a surprise but a pleasant one. The American Dream was part and parcel of Warhol’s early years and he delved into books, film and philanthropy and was highly influential upon a new generation of artists.
Warhol was disciplined in his work production and used silk screen printing to produce editions of his original art. Mass producing in fact, his mass produced subject matter with art for the masses. His original sketches would sell for staggering amounts of money.
The Factory, Warhol’s famous aluminium foil and silver painted studio became the gathering place for a retinue of collaborative artists, eccentrics, bohemians all of whom either collaborated on art work, or appeared in Warhol’s films. His “superstar” retinue included Nico, Ultra Violet, and Viva, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn to name but a few. These were the stars of the Factory films.
His influence extended to the music scene and in the 1960’s he adopted the Velvet Underground into the Factory and put Nico to sing with the band as well as using them in a multimedia artwork. However, Lou Reed and Warhol fell out over artistic differences after the success of the first Velvet Underground album. David Bowie was another who was influenced by Andy Warhol and he would later take the title role of Warhol in the film Basquiat. Warhol was connected to many diverse artistic scenes during his life time.
Warhol survived an attempt on his life when a minor player in the factory, feminist writer Valerie Solanas, shot Warhol along with his curator in the studio. Warhol was seriously injured and was fortunate to survive. His injuries meant he had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his days. The shooting had a huge impact on Warhol’s life and art.
Despite Warhol’s art being controversial, he was successful in being awarded a place in the hall of artistic fame. His portraiture of everyday objects as art aligned with his rare form of creativity ensured his path to more than just 15 minutes of fame.
His death came in 1987 following routine gall bladder surgery. His body was returned to Pittsburgh and he was laid in his coffin of solid bronze dressed in a platinum wig, sunglasses, black cashmere suit, and paisley tie. He is buried at Bethal Park in south Pittsburgh.
A brief article can only scratch the surface of Andy Warhol’s life and for those wishing to know more there is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) held by the University of Edinburgh taking place in April. It is part of the Coursera free online learning programme and is completely free to participants. To sign up go to Andy Warhol at Coursera.com.