Biography of Andy Warhol, Icon of Pop Art

Andy Warhol At His Whitney Museum Retrospective

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Andy Warhol (born Andrew Warhola; Aug. 6, 1928–Feb. 22, 1987) was one of the most important artists of pop art, a genre that became popular in the second half of the 20th century. Though he is best remembered for his mass-produced paintings of Campbell's soup cans, he created hundreds of other works ranging from commercial advertisements to films. His best-known work, including the soup cans, reflected his views on the banality that he saw in the commercial culture of America.

Fast Facts; Andy Warhol

  • Known For: Pop art
  • Also Known As: Andrew Warhola
  • Born: Aug. 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Parents: Andrej and Julia Warhola
  • Died: Feb. 22, 1987 in New York, New York
  • Education: Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Published Works: Commercial illustrations, paintings, films
  • Notable Quote: "I just happen to like ordinary things. When I paint them, I don't try to make them extraordinary. I just try to paint them ordinary-ordinary."

Early Life and Education

Andy Warhol was born on Aug. 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up there with his older brothers, Paul and John, and his parents, Andrej and Julia Warhola, both of whom had emigrated from Czechoslovakia (now called Slovakia). Devout Byzantine Catholics, the family regularly attended Mass and observed their Eastern European heritage.

Even as a young boy, Warhol liked to draw, color, and cut and paste pictures. His mother, who was also artistic, encouraged him by giving him a chocolate bar every time he finished a page in his coloring book.

Elementary school was traumatic for Warhol, especially once he contracted Sydenham's chorea, also known as St. Vitus' dance, a disease that attacks the nervous system and makes the sufferer shake uncontrollably. Warhol missed a lot of school during several month-long periods of bed rest. Additionally, large, pink blotches on Warhol's skin, also from the disorder, didn't help his self-esteem or acceptance by other students. This led to nicknames such as “Spot” and “Andy the Red-Nosed Warhola” and a lifelong interest in clothing, wigs, cosmetics, and, later, plastic surgery in response to what he perceived as his flaws.

During high school, Warhol took art classes there and at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art). He was somewhat of an outcast because he was quiet, could always be found with a sketchbook in his hands, and had shockingly pale skin and white-blond hair. Warhol also loved to go to movies and started a collection of celebrity memorabilia, particularly autographed photos. A number of these pictures appeared in Warhol's later artwork.

Warhol graduated from high school and then went to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1945, graduating in 1949 with a major in pictorial design.

Blotted-Line Technique

During college, Warhol developed the blotted-line technique, which involved taping two pieces of blank paper together at an edge and then drawing in ink on one page. Before the ink dried, he pressed the two pieces of paper together. The resulting image was a picture with irregular lines that he could fill in with watercolor.

Warhol moved to New York right after college and worked there for a decade as a commercial illustrator. He quickly earned a reputation in the 1950s for using his blotted-line technique in commercial advertisements. Some of Warhol's most famous ads were for shoes for I. Miller, but he also drew Christmas cards for Tiffany & Co., created book and album covers, and illustrated Amy Vanderbilt's "Complete Book of Etiquette."

Pop Art

Around 1960, Warhol decided to make a name for himself in pop art, a new style of art that had begun in England in the mid-1950s and consisted of realistic renditions of popular, everyday items. Warhol had turned away from the blotted-line technique and had decided to use paint and canvas, but he was having trouble deciding what to paint.

Warhol began with Coke bottles and comic strips, but his work wasn't getting the attention he wanted. In December 1961, a friend gave Warhol an idea: he should paint what he liked most in the world, perhaps something such as money or a can of soup. Warhol painted both.

Warhol's first exhibition in an art gallery came in 1962 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. He displayed his canvases of Campbell's soup, one for each of the 32 types of soup made by the company. He sold all the paintings as a set for $1,000. Before long, Warhol's work was known all over the world and he was in the vanguard of the new pop art movement.

Silk-Screening

Unfortunately for Warhol, he found that he couldn't make his paintings fast enough on canvas. In July 1962, he discovered the process of silk screening, which uses a specially prepared section of silk as a stencil, allowing one silk-screen image to create similar patterns multiple times.

He immediately began making paintings of political and Hollywood celebrities, most notably a large collection of paintings of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol would use this style for the rest of his life. Mass production not only spread his art; it became his art form.

Movies

In the 1960s as Warhol continued to paint, he also made films, which were known for creative eroticism, lack of plots, and extreme length—up to 25 hours. From 1963 to 1968, he made nearly 60 movies. One of his movies, "Sleep," is a five-and-a-half-hour film of a nude man sleeping. “We were shooting so many, we never even bothered to give titles to a lot of them,” Warhol later recalled.

On July 3, 1968, disgruntled actress Valerie Solanas, one of the hangers-on at Warhol's studio known as The Factory, shot him in the chest. Less than 30 minutes later, Warhol was pronounced clinically dead. The doctor then cut Warhol's chest open and massaged his heart for a final effort to get it started again. It worked. Though his life was saved, it took a long time for him to recover.

Warhol continued to paint during the 1970s and 1980s. He also began publishing a magazine called Interview and several books about himself and pop art. He even dabbled in television, producing two shows—"Andy Warhol’s TV" and "Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes,"—for MTV and appearing on "The Love Boat" and "Saturday Night Live."

Death

On Feb. 21, 1987, Warhol underwent routine gallbladder surgery. Though the operation went well, Warhol unexpectedly passed away the following morning from complications. He was 58.

Legacy

Warhol’s work is featured in an enormous collection at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, which the website describes as "one of the most comprehensive single-artist museums in the world and the largest in North America." It includes paintings, drawings, commercial illustrations, sculptures, prints, photographs, wallpapers, sketchbooks, and books covering Warhol’s career, from his student work to pop art paintings and collaborations.

In his will, the artist directed that his entire estate be used to create a foundation for the advancement of the visual arts. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established in 1987.

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