LGBT People of History 79 - Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was ‘pop art’. He has grown into a legend and icon over the years. A piece of his artwork is now guaranteed to fetch at least tens of millions at auction. He was involved in painting, illustration, sculpture, music, printmaking, photography and film. He made the connection between celebrity, art and advertising years before anyone else and his famous phrase ’15 minutes of fame’ has come true due to pervasive contemporary media.
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 6th 1928. His father was Ondrej Warhola and his mother Julia. His parents were from Slovakia in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire; his father upon Americanisation changed his name to Andrej Warhola.
Andy’s father was the first to emigrate to America in 1914 and his mother later joined him in 1921. Andy contracted chorea as a child which is a disease of the nervous system, causing involuntary movements of the extremities. This disease is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever and causes skin pigmentation and blotchiness.
Andy became a hypochondriac and was bed ridden for a time, developing a fear of hospitals and doctors.
From an early age Andy showed an artistic talent and eventually went on to study Commercial Art at the School Of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1949 at the age of 21 Andy moved to New York City where he began a career in magazine illustration and advertising. In the 1950s he gained fame for his whimsical ink drawings of shoe advertisements.
Later Andy was hired by RCA Records to design album covers and promotional materials for vinyl records.
In the 60s he started to create paintings of contemporary American products like Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell Soup tins citing the fact that these are levellers of society, as the coke the President drinks is identical to that a tramp on the street will drink. He also made paintings of iconic celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. He also photographed electric chairs and nuclear mushroom clouds. He was never far from controversy. He and other members of the ‘pop art’ movement showed the consumer society for what it really was.
He created ‘The Factory’ where intellectuals, drag queens, transvestites, underground movie stars, playwrights, street people, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy patrons all inter-mixed and hung out. This was a very diverse bunch of people. Many people helped him create his art in ‘The Factory’ and this became another controversial feature of his art. Had he produced it?
In 1968, Valerie Solanas, shot Andy. He was seriously wounded and suffered the effects of his injuries for the remainder of his life. As a result the free and easy life in ‘The Factory’ ended and the scene there became tightly controlled.
In the 70s, Andy created portraits of many famous people including John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and Mao Zedong. He founded ‘Interview’ magazine with Gerard Malanga. Later in the 80s he was criticised for creating ‘commercial art’ but others recognised that he was capturing a particular time and attitude in American culture. He created his famous Michael Jackson painting at this time.
Warhol also made many films in his time – many of them controversial or leaving the audience baffled. ‘Sleep’ shows John Giorno asleep for 6 hours. Other movies deal with sex and sexuality. ‘Chelsea Girls’ was his most popular movie whilst ‘My Hustler’ and ‘Lonesome Cowboys’ deal with the gay underground and all things camp at the time. It has to be remembered that these movies were made in the 1960s. Famous ‘Factory’ movies directed by Paul Morrisey include ‘Flesh’, ‘Trash’ and ‘Heat’. Joe Dallesandro was a star in these movies.
Musically, Andy adopted the ‘Velvet Underground’ – a unique band which included Lou Reed and John Cale as members. Andy introduced them to Nico and together they produced some of the most explosive and haunting avant- garde music of the era. Andy also had a great influence on the likes of David Bowie and punk band ‘Devo’.
He also was involved in the print media trying various experiments in mis-spellings and phonetic writing.
During his prolific career, Warhol was also involved in sculpture, drawing, audio recordings, time capsules, television, fashion, performance art and theatre.
Andy was openly gay but described himself as a virgin. He may have regarded sex as an ‘abstract’ – something he viewed as an outsider or he may have meant that he had never had sex with a female. His attitude to the subject was typically enigmatic. He produced much work which was derived from gay subculture at the time. Some people described him as being ‘swish’.
On February 22nd 1987 Andy Warhol died in his sleep from a post-operative cardiac arrhythmia after he had had surgery on his gallbladder. Prior to this he had delayed getting his gallbladder problems seen to because of his fear of hospitals and doctors.
He was just 59 years old.
After his death his family sued the hospital for inadequate care, saying that the arrhythmia was caused by improper care andwater intoxication.
An incredibly perceptive man and a legend!
Ian and Callum.
With Thanks to Wikipedia.
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