The Art of Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol's Place in History
Andy Warhol was part of the Pop Art movement and was one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century. He captured American life in ways that were groundbreaking to the art world. Today his works often sell for millions of dollars.
Warhol's Early Work
Warhol's Early Years
Andy Warhol studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, located in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He followed this up by moving to New York, the epicenter of the American art scene, where he became known for his drawings of shoe ads (no, I'm not making this up).
Warhol's work was popular enough to get him hired by RCA Records, who wanted him to help design album covers. This was right at the time when vinyl record sales were soaring, so a premium was placed on artists who could fill the blank canvas that is an album cover with something a music buyer might be interested in without having heard the music within.
Andy Warhol Goes to the Supermarket
Andy Warhol and Commercialism
Andy Warhol used his success in artistic advertising to found The Factory in the early 1960's. This was the name of his studio, and it was named appropriately because Warhol thought of art as something that can be mass produced. Throughout his career he would collaborate with assistants to produce and incredible quantity of his artwork.
Perhaps Warhol's most iconic painting was of a Campbell's soup can. He would go on to make hundreds of variations of this, and I'm sure even today there are many thousands of original prints in existence. Warhol also made a famous painting of the iconic Coca Cola bottle during this period, along with many variations.
Warhol's art was not only in the form of paintings and screenprints. He also did a Brillo soap pad box that was well received by the art community. The variations on this box included a supermarket-like display that had dozens of the boxes.
Although Warhol was attacked by some in the art community for selling out to commercialism and capitalism, Warhol embraced his role in celebrating "the plastic world". His popularity soared with a 1964 exhibit in New York City called The American Supermarket, which recreated the supermarket using the artwork of Warhol and others. This exhibit was the first exposure for much of the public to pop art. It also left many questioning what art really is. For instance, if an artist just recreates a commercial product, is it really art? Was the original product and packaging also art, or only the artist's re-creation?
The exhibit proved to be a huge success for Warhol as his Campbell's soup paintings sold for $1,500 apiece, and autographed cans of soup (bought from a "normal" supermarket) sold for $6 each, which added up to a nice sum of money in the 1960's.
Warhol's Take on Sports & Entertainment
Warhol Goes to Hollywood
Andy Warhol was always infatuated with celebrities. His most famous quote is "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes". This is where the term "15 minutes of fame" comes from.
Warhol's subjects were often celebrities. The most famous Warhol celebrity portrait is that of Marilyn Monroe. He did many different versions of this portrait, changing the color of her face, hair, makeup, and also the background color. This "Warhol effect" can now be found everywhere, from posters of Albert Einstein to your friends Facebook profile picture.
Although not his best-known work, one Warhol painting/print of Elvis Presley currently holds the record for the highest-priced Warhol. It sold at auction for $100 million, making Warhol one of just 5 artists who have reached that price range (several others, such as Renaissance masters, would likely reach that mark if their works were ever sold to the public).
Warhol also did many paintings of sports stars, including boxer Muhammad Ali and baseball pitcher Tom Seaver (a print of which was displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York).
Andy Warhol Goes Political
Warhol on the Political Scene
To Andy Warhol, politicians were as much celebrities as they were policy-makers. In an era where image was becoming just as important as ideas, Warhol made many different political leaders the subject of his paintings.
One of my favorite Warhol political paintings depicts President Richard Nixon with a green face and yellow teeth and a pink suit. At the bottom Warhol has scribed "Vote McGovern" (Nixon and George McGovern faced off in the 1972 elections, Nixon won in a landslide). This might be one of the few hints at Warhol's political leanings that can be found in his artwork.
Warhol made a series of paintings/prints featuring Mao Zedong, the leader of Communist China. Although perhaps not a huge celebrity in the United States, "Chairman Mao" was celebrated like a demi-god in China and was one of the most recognizable figures in the entire world. His book of quotations remains one of the most printed books of all time. Warhol no doubt was intrigued by this level of celebrity -- a person famous for more than the alloted 15 minutes in his lifetime, Mao continues to be the most well-known figure in China to this day, decades after his death.
By the time Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., Andy Warhol was famous enough to receive an invitation to the White House. He presented the president with a sketch, and would also make Carter the subject of his paintings and prints, giving him a kinder treatment than he gave to Nixon.
Warhol Does Promotions
Warhol in Advertising
Andy Warhol's work was used to promote products from his very early days. As stated before, one of his first jobs as an artist was designing album covers in the early days of the vinyl record. He continued to design album covers even after he became famous. He grew fond of the art rock group The Velvet Underground, and he designed the artwork for their first album, which was self-titled. This cover, depicting a banana, is one of the better-known Warhol works and remains one of the most famous album covers of all time. He also did the album cover for The Rolling Stone's Sticky Little Fingers album.
Warhol's take on an Apple Macintosh print advertisement led the company to use his work for advertising their products long after his death.
Andy Warhol books
Warhol's Final Years
The Last Years of Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol became a mainstream celebrity even outside of the art world in his final years. He had two TV shows that ran on cable, Andy Warhol's TV and then Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes, which ran on MTV starting in 1986.
Warhol could foresee the emergence of the personal computer into everyday American lives even in the early 1980's. He even incorporated the computer into his creation of art. At one live event, he used a Commodore Amiga computer to alter a photo of singer Debbie Harry (who was present at the demonstration). This was many years before the term "photoshop" entered the American lexicon.
Warhol died of complications following gallbladder surgery on February 22, 1987.
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