Andy Warhol is probably the most famous member of the Pop Art movement. He has become one of the icons of the 20th Century, putting as much effort into publicising himself, as promoting his work. He was finely tuned to the tedium of modern mass-culture, conveying and indeed revelling in the banality of the images proliferating around him. His stance was on the one hand distant and voyeuristic – and on the other totally immersed in the culture of spectacle. He was able to both comment upon and completely embrace the materialism of the Sixties.
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh to Czechoslovakian immigrant parents. He studied painting and design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh. When he graduated from college with his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1949, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist.
He achieved enormous success as a commercial artist, specialising in shoe advertisements, winning the prestigious Art Directors’ Club Medal twice in 1952 and 1957. It was also at this time that he dropped the “a” at the end of his last name to become Andy Warhol. In 1960, Andy Warhol began to replicate a range of mass-produced images, beginning with newspaper advertisements and comic strips before turning to packaging, dollar bills and more.
In 1962, he had his first one-man show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and in the same year exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York. This was the year of ’32 Campbell’s Soup Cans’ (1961-1962). These small canvas works of everyday consumer products created a major stir in the art world, bringing both Warhol and pop art into the national spotlight for the first time. Soon after, his sculptures of Brillo soap pad boxes, Coca-Cola bottles and replications of popular icons such as Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and most famously Marilyn Monroe were to appear and secure his reputation.
In 1964, Andy Warhol opened his own art studio, a large silver-painted warehouse known simply as “The Factory.” The Factory quickly became one of New York City’s premier cultural hotspots, a scene of lavish parties attended by the city’s wealthiest socialites and celebrities, including musician Lou Reed, who paid tribute to the hustlers and transvestites he’d met at The Factory with his hit song “Walk on the Wild Side”. Warhol became a fixture at infamous New York City nightclubs like Studio 54 and Max’s Kansas City.
In 1968, however, Warhol’s thriving career almost ended. He was shot by Valerie Solanis, an aspiring writer and radical feminist, on June 3. Warhol was seriously wounded in this attack. Valerie Solanis had appeared in one of Andy Warhol’s films and was reportedly upset with him over his refusal to use a script she had written. After the shooting, Valerie Solanis was arrested and later pleaded guilty to the crime. Warhol spent weeks in a New York hospital recovering from his injuries.
In the 1970’s, Andy Warhol continued to explore other forms of media. He published such books as The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and Exposures. He also experimented extensively with video art, producing more than 60 films during his career. Some of his most famous films include Sleep, which depicts poet John Giorno sleeping for six hours, and Eat, which shows a man eating a mushroom for 45 minutes.
Warhol also worked in sculpture and photography, and in the 1980’s, he moved into television, hosting Andy Warhol’s TV and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes on MTV.
Warhol died on February 22, 1987, at the age of 58. Bernard Levin sums up the essence of Andy Warhol perfectly: “[He was a] one-man demonstration of the triumph of publicity over art.”