The Man, The Mystery: 6 Surprising Facts About Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was one of the most complex public figures in the history of American culture. A highly original artist who changed the way people thought about art, he cultivated a mysterious persona that continues to fascinate.
He might be best known for his Campbell's soup cans and large-scale screenprints of celebrities, but in reality Andy Warhol's artistic scope reached much further. Here we take a look at some of the lesser known and surprising facts that make up the Warhol curiosity.
1. Childhood Disease
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristics of Andy Warhol was his physical appearance. Known for his slight frame, silver wigs, and thick white face makeup, Warhol cut quite a unique figure even during the counterculture heydays of 1960s America.
As an adult, Warhol experimented with cosmetic surgery and treatments to enhance his look, and devoted a lifetime of work to dissecting consumerism, celebrity and materialism, all aspects of popular culture that emphasize the importance outward appearances.
It could be that Warhol's obsessions with beauty and his own physicality was a result of the disease he endured as a child, the neurological disorder Sydenham Chorea. Also known as "St. Vitus' Dance," the disorder caused him uncontrollable shaking and skin problems, symptoms that would affect Warhol's confidence for decades.
2. Warhol as Filmmaker
Warhol's most well known artworks are all two-dimensional, the memorable screenprints of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, and the Campbell's soup can paintings. Although these are the works that persist most wholly in the collective memory, Warhol was also quite a proficient filmmaker. Having created hundreds of short films and a number of feature length films over his career, 60 of which were produced from 1963-1968, his celluloid art never quite gained the attention it deserved and continues to be some of his lesser known work.
One of the more famous Warhol films is Sleep, made in 1963. It is one continuous take, over five hours long, featuring performance artist and poet John Gionoro sleeping. One of the first films Warhol ever made, it was experimental in nature and thought of as "anti-film." Warhol followed the minor buzz created by Sleep with Empire, an eight-hour film of the Empire State Building.
3. Assassination Attempt
In June of 1968, former Factory figure and feminist Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Warhol, shooting him in the chest. Solanas was unhappy after being turned away from the studio earlier that same day, having asked for the return of a script she had lent to Warhol but failing to get it back.
Solanas succeeded in afflicting critic Mario Amaya with minor injuries as well during the shooting, who was released from the hospital the same day; however, Warhol barely survived the attack. Quickly rushed to the hospital, surgeons were required to open his chest cavity and massage the heart to stimulate pumping. Warhol was lucky to survive but suffered the effects of the murder attempt for the remainder of his lifetime. Solanas was arrested and convicted, eventually sentenced to three years in prison.
Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground and a close friend of Warhol's, wrote the song "Andy's Chest" after the incident.
4. Interview Magazine
Andy Warhol founded Interview magazine in 1969. Promoting Interview in the early period of the magazine involved handing out free copies to people that made up the "in-crowd."
The madcap, unedited or unusually edited interview style of Warhol persisted up until recent decades.
5. the Rolling Stones Collaborator
Warhol began his career as an artist in the commercial art world, working as an illustrator. Eventually finding success as a conceptual, fine artist in addition to commercial artist, he would dabble in commercial art again (among his many other pursuits) in a collaboration with the Rolling Stones.
In 1971, Warhol designed the album art for the Rolling Stone's Sticky Fingers. One of the most famous album covers of all time, it features the prominent crotch of a denim-clad man. Although Warhol did not lend a hand in illustrating the cover, he was responsible for conceptualizing the design. Always one for hidden meanings and tongue in cheek wit, Warhol's name was featured stamped in red on the white briefs on the inside album cover, below which read "THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE-ETC."
6. Amiga Commission
In 1985, Warhol was commissioned by then high-tech computer company Commodore International to demonstrate the "graphic art capabilities" of their new Amiga computer.
Up until recently, his work on the computer was "lost to time," having been saved on useless floppy disks. However, just in the past year a collaboration between the Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Club resulted in the recovery of lost work.
Pieces include a digital Campbell's soup can drawing, patterned self portrait and a pixelated Venus with a third eye.
Andy Warhol was a prolific and versatile artist in addition to being an undeniably fascinating person. The legacy he left behind through his paintings, films, collaborations and writing will allow him to remain in the public consciousness for some time to come.