Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987)
A trailblazer in the pop art movement, Andy Warhol is recognized for his banal depictions of mass-produced products and his unusually long underground films.
Best known for:
- Exhibiting his appropriated Campbell soup can paintings which are now housed in The Museum of Modern Art (1962).
- Painting the “Eight Elvises,” which is among the most expensive artworks ever auctioned (1963).
- Producing over 60 films such as Eat (1963), in which a man is observed eating mushrooms for 45-minutes straight, and Chelsea Girls (1966), a 3 ½ hour-long film characterized by out-of-focus shots and intentionally poor editing.
A trailblazer in the pop art movement, Andy Warhol is recognized for his banal depictions of mass-produced products and unusually long underground films. His claim to fame was his Campbell’s soup paintings exhibition in the 1960s, adding items such as Brillo Pads and Coke bottles to the series later on. A virtuosic filmmaker, Warhol created incredibly complex films, such as the controversial Chelsea Girls, as well as unusually simple films, such as Sleep, which featured his partner sleeping naked on a bed. Though he died prematurely, his influence still rings today.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola, was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents immigrated to the United States from modern-day Slovakia. Warhol’s father, Andrej Warhola, worked as a construction worker, and his mother, Julia Warhola, worked as an embroiderer.
Warhol suffered from Sydenham chorea, also known as St. Vitus’ Dance, throughout his childhood years—a condition affecting the nervous system that results in uncontrollable movements. He contracted the disease at the age of eight years old, which left him bedridden for a number of months.
Eventually, Warhol’s health was restored to the extent that he could return to school at Holmes Elementary. It was during these early years that his mother fostered a love for art in her young son, teaching him how to draw and gifting him a camera.
When Andy was 14-years-old, his father was diagnosed with a jaundiced liver. Although he soon passed away, he did not leave his son without hope for a future. Having recognized Andy’s unique artistic abilities, the senior Warhol noted in his will that the inheritance he would leave behind should be put toward Andy’s college education.
Upon graduating from Schenley High School in 1945, Warhol enrolled at the prestigious Carnegie Institute for Technology—now Carnegie Mellon University—to study pictorial design. He completed his undergraduate coursework in 1949 and then moved to New York City.
MAKING IT BIG
Warhol scored a job in New York as a commercial illustrator for Glamour magazine. The recent college graduate was learning the way around his new hometown and attempting to nail down his own perception of self-identity. Embodying this experience was Warhol’s ever-changing monikers. His birth name, Andrew Warhola, would not do for the young artist. André Warhola, A. Warhola, and Andy Morningstar were all names that he conceived of, yet did not satisfy him. So, instead of opting for a fanciful name, he simply adopted his nickname, dropped the “a” off his last name, and went by Andy Warhol.
Throughout the 1950s, Warhol won numerous awards for his illustrated designs; however, it wasn’t until the 1960s that his name would truly rise to prominence.
In 1962, Warhol showcased his now-iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans. He later exhibited paintings of other ordinary items such as Brillo pads, Coca-Cola bottles, and even celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. Such exhibitions solidified Warhol’s notability as an artist and engendered the movement known as pop art.
Not only was Warhol a noted painter, but he was also a filmmaker. Warhol, who spent hours in a makeshift darkroom tinkering with photographs as an adolescent, now utilized his passion for the lens as an adult.
His first motion pictures were short films featuring subjects performing ordinary acts in grotesque ways. John Washing (1963) was the first in Warhol’s “Unseen” series of films and featured the poet John Giorno—who many believe was Warhol’s lover—standing in the nude washing dishes for nearly five minutes.
Warhol’s first feature-length film, Sleep (1964), also featured Giorno in the nude; yet, in this film, Giorno is simply seen sleeping for 45-minutes straight.
Another notable film in Warhol’s repertoire was Chelsea Girls (1966). With a duration of three-and-a-half hours, the movie attracted avant-garde audiences who were not strangers to leaving the theatre puzzled and perplexed. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert, the famed film critic, asserted, “‘Chelsea Girls’ must be believed to be seen … For what we have here is 3 1/2 hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them.”
In 1968, just two years after the release of Chelsea Girls, Warhol opened “The Factory,” an art studio that he could call his own.
A central meeting point for high society artists, Warhol found himself participating in the lifestyle he so frequently critiqued, a lifestyle that beheld deep consequences.
In the same year “The Factory” opened, Valerie Solanas, a fringe women’s activist who frequented the studio shot and nearly murdered Warhol. The authorities arrested Solanas, who founded the Society for Cutting Up Men, after her crime. Warhol sustained critical injuries to multiple internal organs, leading the doctors to declare him deceased soon after the incident; however, the medical personnel were able to revive him. Warhol never fully recovered from Solanas’ attempted murder and needed to wear a medical corset for the rest of his life.
AN UNTIMELY DEMISE
Warhol was not only a famed painter and filmmaker, but also a writer. He published art-based works such as Exposures (1979) as well as philosophical works such as the aptly named, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975).
In the 1980s, Warhol dove into the world of television, starring in his own MTV shows Andy Warhol’s TV (1983-1984) and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes (1985-1987).
Four years into his new television endeavors, Warhol was admitted to the hospital for gallbladder issues. His medical team performed a routine surgery to remove his gallbladder and were successful in the operation. However, on February 22, 1987, only two days following the procedure, Warhol succumbed to cardiac arrest. He was 58-years-old.
His memorial service was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and his body was interned at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.
Today, Warhol is remembered for his critiques of industrialization and celebrity culture, and for being a trailblazer in the pop art movement.