"How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you've given up something.. I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And I think that's what's is going to happen, that's going to be the whole new scene."
Andy Warhol was the most successful and highly paid commercial illustrator in New York even before he began to make art destined for galleries. Nevertheless, his screenprinted images of Marilyn Monroe, soup cans, and sensational newspaper stories, quickly became synonymous with Pop art. He emerged from the poverty and obscurity of an Eastern European immigrant family in Pittsburgh, to become a charismatic magnet for bohemian New York, and to ultimately find a place in the circles of High Society. For many his ascent echoes one of Pop art's ambitions, to bring popular styles and subjects into the exclusive salons of high art. His crowning achievement was the elevation of his own persona to the level of a popular icon, representing a new kind of fame and celebrity for a fine artist.
Warhol's early commercial illustration has recently been acclaimed as the arena in which he first learned to manipulate popular tastes. His drawings were often comic, decorative, and whimsical, and their tone is entirely different from the cold and impersonal mood of his Pop art.
Much debate still surrounds the iconic screenprinted images with which Warhol established his reputation as a Pop artist in the early 1960s. Some view his Death and Disaster series, and his Marilyn pictures, as frank expressions of his sorrow at public events. Others view them as some of the first expressions of 'compassion fatigue' - the way the public loses the ability to sympathize with events from which they feel removed. Still others think of his pictures as screens - placed between us and horrifying events - which attempt to register and process shock.
Although artists had drawn on popular culture throughout the twentieth century, Pop art marked an important new stage in the breakdown between high and low art forms. Warhol's paintings from the early 1960s were important in pioneering these developments, but it is arguable that the diverse activities of his later years were just as influential in expanding the implications of Pop art into other spheres, and further eroding the borders between the worlds of high art and popular culture.
Although Warhol would continue to create paintings intermittently throughout his career, in 1965 he "retired" from the medium to concentrate on making experimental films. Despite years of neglect, these films have recently attracted widespread interest, and Warhol is now seen as one of the most important filmmakers of the period, a forefather of independent film.
Critics have traditionally seen Warhol's career as going into decline in 1968, after he was shot by Valerie Solanas. Valuing his early paintings above all, they have ignored the activities that absorbed his attention in later years - parties, collecting, publishing, and painting commissioned portraits. Yet some have begun to think that all these ventures make up Warhol's most important legacy because they prefigure the diverse interests, activities, and interventions that occupy artists today.
Most Important Art
Andy Warhol Artworks in Focus:
Campbell's Soup Cans (1962)
By the 1960s, the New York art world was in a rut, the very original and popular canvases of the Abstract Expressionist of the 1940s and '50s have become cliche. Warhol was one of the artists that felt the need to bring back imagery into his work. The gallery owner and interior designer Muriel Latow gave Warhol the idea of painting soup cans, when she suggested to him that he should paint objects that people use every day (it is rumored that Warhol ate the soup for lunch every single day).
Andy Warhol Overview Continues Below
Andy was the third child born to Czechoslovakian immigrant parents, Ondrej and Ulja (Julia) Warhola, in a working class neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He had two older brothers, John and Paul. As a child, Andy was smart and creative. His mother, a casual artist herself, encouraged his artistic urges by giving him his first camera at nine years old. Warhol was known to suffer from a nervous disorder that would frequently keep him at home, and, during these long periods, he would listen to the radio and collect pictures of movie stars around his bed. It was this exposure to current events at a young age that he later said shaped his obsession with pop culture and celebrities. When he was 14, his father passed away, leaving the family money to be specifically used towards higher learning for one of the boys. It was decided by the family that Andy would benefit the most from a college education.
After graduating from high school at the age of 16, in 1945, Warhol attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), where he received formal training in pictorial design. Shortly after graduating, in 1949, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a commercial illustrator. His first project was for Glamour magazine for an article entitled, "Success is a Job in New York." Throughout the 1950s Warhol continued his successful career in commercial illustration, working for several well-known magazines, such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker. He also produced advertising and window displays for local New York retailers. His work with I. Miller & Sons, for which his whimsical blotted line advertisements were particularly noticed, gained him some local notoriety, even winning several awards from the Art Director's Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
In the early 1950s, Andy shortened his name from Warhola to Warhol, and decided to strike out on his own as a serious artist. His experience and expertise in commercial art, combined with his immersion in American popular culture, influenced his most notable work. In 1952, he exhibited Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote in his first individual show at the Hugo Gallery in New York. While exhibiting work in several venues around New York City, he most notably exhibited at MoMA, where he participated in his first group show in 1956. Warhol took notice of new emerging artists, greatly admiring the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, which inspired him to expand his own artistic experimentation.
In 1960, Warhol began using advertisements and comic strips in his paintings. These works, examples of early Pop art, were characterized by more expressive and painterly styles that included clearly recognizable brushstrokes, and were loosely influenced by Abstract Expressionism. However, subsequent works, such his Brillo Boxes (1964), would mark a direct rebellion against Abstract Expressionism, by almost completely removing any evidence of the artist's hand.
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In September 1960, after moving to a townhouse at 1342 Lexington Avenue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he began his most prolific period. From having no dedicated studio space in his previous apartment, where he lived with his mother, he now had plenty of room to work. In 1962 he offered the Department of Real Estate $150 a month to rent a nearby obsolete fire house on East 87th Street. He was granted permission and used this space in conjunction with his Lexington Avenue space until 1964.
Continuing with the theme of advertisements and comic strips, his paintings throughout the early part of the 1960s were based primarily on illustrated images from printed media and graphic design. To create his large-scale graphic canvases, Warhol used an opaque projector to enlarge the images onto a large canvas on the wall. Then, working freehand, he would trace the image with paint directly onto the canvas without a pencil tracing underneath. As a result, Warhol's works from early 1961 are generally more painterly.
Late in 1961, Warhol started on his Campbell's Soup Can paintings. The series employed many different techniques, but most were created by projecting source images on to canvas, tracing them with a pencil, and then applying paint. In this way Warhol removed most signs of the artist's hand.
In 1962 Warhol started to explore silkscreening. This stencil process involved transferring an image on to a porous screen, then applying paint or ink with a rubber squeegee. This marked another means of painting while removing traces of his hand; like the stencil processes he had used to create the Campbell's Soup Can pictures, this also enabled him to repeat the motif multiple times across the same image, producing a serial image suggestive of mass production. Often, he would first set down a layer of colors which would compliment the stencilled image after it was applied.
His first silkscreened paintings were based on the front and back faces of dollar bills, and he went on to create several series of images of various consumer goods and commercial items using this method. He depicted shipping and handling labels, Coca-Cola bottles, coffee can labels, Brillo Soap box labels, matchbook covers, and cars. From autumn 1962 he also started to produce photo-silkscreen works, which involved transferring a photographic image on the porous silkscreens. His first was Baseball (1962), and those that followed often employed banal or shocking imagery derived from tabloid newspaper photographs of car crashes and civil rights riots, money and consumer household products.
In 1964 Warhol moved to 231 East 47th Street, calling it "The Factory." Having achieved moderate success as an artist by this point, he was able to employ several assistants to help him execute his work. This marked a turning point in his career. Now, with the help of his assistants, he could more decisively remove his hand from the canvas and create repetitive, mass-produced images that would appear empty of meaning and beg the question, "What makes art, art?" This was an idea first introduced by Marcel Duchamp, whom Warhol admired.
Warhol had a lifelong fascination with Hollywood, demonstrated by his series of iconic images of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. He also expanded his medium into installations, most notably at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1964, replicating Brillo boxes in their actual size and then screenprinting their label designs onto blocks made of plywood.
Wanting to continue his exploration of different mediums, Warhol began experimenting with film in 1963. Two years later, after a trip to Paris for an exhibition of his work, he announced that he would be retiring from painting to focus exclusively on film. Although he never completely followed through with this intention, he did produce many films, most starring those whom he called the Warholstars, an eccentric and eclectic group of friends who frequented the Factory and were known for their unconventional lifestyle.
He created approximately 600 films between 1963 and 1976, ones ranging in length from a few minutes to 24 hours. He also developed a project called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, or EPI, in 1967. The EPI was a multi-media production combining The Velvet Underground rock band with projections of film, light and dance, culminating in a sensory experience of performance art. Warhol had also been self-publishing artist's books since the 1950s, but his first mass produced book, Andy Warhol's Index, was published in 1967. He later published several other books, and founded Interview Magazine with his friend Gerard Malanga in 1969. The magazine is dedicated to celebrities and is still in production today.
After an attempt on his life in 1968, by acquaintance and radical feminist, Valerie Solanas, he decided to distance himself from his unconventional entourage. This marked the end of the 1960s Factory scene. Warhol subsequently sought out companionship in New York high society, and throughout most of the 1970s his work consisted of commissioned portraits derived from printed Polaroid photographs. The most notable exception to this is his famous Mao series, which was done as a comment on President Richard Nixon's visit to China. Lacking the glamour and commercial appeal of his earlier portraits, critics saw Warhol as prostituting his artistic talent, and viewed this later period as one of decline. However, Warhol saw financial success as an important goal. At this point, he had made the successful shift from commercial artist to business artist.
Late Years and Death
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Warhol made a return to painting, and produced works that frequently verged on abstraction. His Oxidation Painting series, which were made by urinating on a canvas of copper paint, echoed the immediacy of the Abstract Expressionists and the rawness of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. By the 1980s, Warhol had regained much of his critical notoriety, due in part to his collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente, two much younger and more cutting-edge artists. And, in the final years of Warhol's life, he turned to religious subjects; his version of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper is particularly renowned. In these works, Warhol melded the sacred and the irreverent by juxtaposing enlarged logos of brands against images of Christ and his Apostles.
After suffering postoperative complications from a routine gall bladder procedure, Warhol died on February 22, 1987. He was buried in his hometown of Pittsburgh. His memorial service was held in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and attended by more than 2,000 people.
Andy Warhol was one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century, creating some of the most recognizable images ever produced. Challenging the idealist visions and personal emotions conveyed by abstraction, Warhol embraced popular culture and commercial processes to produce work that appealed to the general public. He was one of the founding fathers of the Pop art movement, expanding the ideas of Duchamp by challenging the very definition of art. His artistic risks and constant experimentation with subjects and media made him a pioneer in almost all forms of visual art. His unconventional sense of style and his celebrity entourage helped him reach the mega-star status to which he aspired.
Warhol's will dictated that his estate fund the Warhol Foundation for the advancement of the visual arts, which was subsequently created later that year. Through the joint efforts of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, and Dia Center for the Arts the Warhol Museum was opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1994, housing a large collection of Warhol's work.
Untitled from Marilyn Monroe
- Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York)
- sheet: 36 x 36 in. (91.5 x 91.5 cm)
- Credit Line:
- John B. Turner Fund, 1968
- Accession Number:
Not on view
Before he became one of the best known artists of the postwar period, Andy Warhol found great success as a commercial illustrator in New York City. After studying pictorial design and painting at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), he moved to New York City, where he supported himself by producing images for advertising and fashion magazines. He continued to make art, which he exhibited in various small galleries and other venues in New York, yet Warhol viewed his commissioned work as distinct from his artwork, which, at that time, often reflected the legacy of both Abstract Expressionist artists and the influence of more recent figures, such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Warhol found source material for his art from such things as advertisements, comics, and stories from magazines and newspapers. Active brushstrokes combined with drips and splatters functioned as signs not only of the gestural impulse, but also, in a nod to artists of the previous generation, a kind of reference to creativity and originality made visible; yet paradoxically, it was by embracing not only the imagery of mass culture but also its aesthetic and means of production that he developed the qualities that made his art so distinctive and influential.
Around 1962, Warhol adopted a more graphic and detached style comprising bold and often contrasting colors, crisp outlines, and commercial imagery. Screenprinting was well suited for his art as it enabled him to repeat images derived from photographic sources multiple times—even within the same painting or print—in a variety of media and colors. It also allowed him to highlight both the detached quality of the process and the imperfections (such uneven tone, smudges, gaps, and signs of irregular printing) often found in commercial production.
Warhol engaged the image of Marilyn Monroe in variety of works, beginning with Gold Marilyn Monroe (Museum of Modern Art, New York) made in August 1962, shortly after the actress’ death. Rather than using a contemporary image, however, he chose a publicity photograph for the film Niagara (1953), which he then cropped to bring her features into greater focus. While Gold Marilyn Monroe has an almost elegiac feel due to the isolation of the small screenprinted image of the actress against a flat gold background, Marilyn (1967) is shockingly bold, with a palette of bright yellow, acid green, and hot pink, whose graphic power is all the more pronounced because of the small size—6" x 6"—of the work and the lack of margins. The print was created to announce the publication of the Marilyn portfolio (1967), which contained ten screenprints, each of which featured Warhol’s by now signature motif differentiated by a distinctive palette often printed off-register to increase the impression of artificiality and industrial production. The portfolio prints were larger (36" x 36") and more tightly cropped than that of the announcement, making Monroe’s face closer to the edges of the paper, and consequently, the viewer. Warhol used five different screens for the portfolio prints, one more than for the small Marilyn. Marilyn and the Marilyn portfolio were the first prints Warhol produced and published through Factory Additions, New York, a company he created to produce and distribute prints based on the motifs — such as Marilyn, Campbell’s Soup, and Flowers— for which he was best known. Its name makes reference to both Warhol’s studio, known as The Factory, and the aural similarity of "additions" and "editions," the latter being a printmaking term that refers to the number of identical impressions created from a matrix and which are often signed and numbered by artists.
Artist: Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York) Date: ca. 1963Medium: Gelatin silver printAccession: 1996.63a,bOn view in:Not on view
Artist: Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York) Date: 1979Medium: Instant color printAccession: 1995.251On view in:Not on view
Artist: Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York) Date: ca. 1963Medium: Direct positive gelatin silver printAccession: 1995.277On view in:Not on view
Artist: Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York) Date: 1962Medium: PhotoengravingAccession: 66.638.18On view in:Not on view
Artist: Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–1987 New York) Date: 1986Medium: Gelatin silver printAccession: 1991.1275On view in:Not on view