Andy Warhol - Biography
Andrew Warhola, Jr., better known by his artistic name Andy Warhol, was born on the 6th of August 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US. He became famous as the leading figure of the artistic movement called pop art. He produced numerous films and prints as well as producing many records throughout his career. He was a popular figure amongst the Hollywood celebrities circle, wealthy art patrons and intellectuals of his time. Andy Warhol died in New York, US, on the 22nd of February 1987, at the age of 58 after a post-operative cardiac arrhythmia. After his death, Warhol's work was the subject of many retrospective exhibitions and a museum, The Andy Warhol Museum, was established in his hometown Pittsburg in memory of his art and life. Andy Warhol's work achieved stratospheric prices, up to US $100 million, only comparable with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh, and Gustav Klimt, amongst few others. According to his will, the vast majority of his estate, estimated at around US$20 million, went to create the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts which to this date is one of the biggest grant providers for visual arts in the US.
Andy Warhol was the fourth child of emigrant parents from what today is Slovakia. Both parents were working class and his father worked in a coal mine. The family was religious and attended services at St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. Andy Warhol had fragile health as a child. He had a nervous system disease called chorea and later became a hypochondriac, fearing doctors and hospitals. He was commonly absent at school as he was often ill in bed and thus became an outcast. At the time, when sick in bed, Andy Warhol would collect pictures of famous movie stars, draw, read comic books, and listen to the radio, activities which he claims to have helped shape his personality and preferences later in life. He also played with inventing different personae, notably signing many greeting cards as "André" and dropping the "a" from his family name Warhola. Warhol's father died when he was 13 years old.
Andy Warhol's career started with commercial art after his studies at the School of Fine Arts in his hometown Pittsburgh. In 1949 he moved to New York, where he started his career in advertising and magazine illustration. He was also, with the expansion of the record industry in the 50s, invited to design promotional materials and album covers. It was a time when many artists worked in commercial art but kept there artisitic ambitions under wraps. Andy Warhol, almost in opposition, became so successful as an illustrator that he had difficulties in being taken seriously in his artistic endeavors. Andy Warhol also employed many assistants to increase his productivity, a practice that he continued to employ throughout his career.
His first fine art works appeared in group exhibitions in New York in the beginning of the fifties. He had to wait until the beginning of the sixties to have his first solo exhibitions, the first being in 1962 in Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery where works such as Marilyn Diptych and 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles and 100 Dollar Bills were exhibited. It was also at the Stable Gallery that Warhol met John Giorno, a poet that would in the following year star in Andy Warhol's film Sleep. It was in the sixties that Warhol started his works on celebrities and iconic American products. Using his silkscreen method, he produced paintings of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali amongst others. It was also in the sixties that he opened his studio The Factory which became a meeting point for a wide variety of artists, writers, and celebrities. Andy Warhol and the pop art movement, was heavily criticized by art critiques that saw their work as a capitulation to consumerism. Andy Warhol claimed that Coca-Cola, for example, was a great symbol of America for it crossed all social barriers being affected, and consumed by, the rich and the poor equally. In 1964, together with other pop artists such as Billy Apple and Robert Watts, Warhol showed his works in Paul Bianchini's Upper East Side gallery in an exhibition called The American Supermarket which sold autographs for US $6, Andy Warhol's popular Campbell's soup drawings for US $1,500 and was one of the first exhibition to confront a wider audience with the pop art approach to the question of what is art.
It was also in the sixties, more precisely between 1963 and 1968, that Andy Warhol produced most of his films and videos. His most famous ones are Sleep, where he had John Giorno filmed during 6 hours of sleep, Blowjob, a 35 minute single shot of De Veren Bookwalter receiving oral sex, Empire, an 8 hour footage of the Empire State Building, and Eat, a 45 minute film of a man eating a mushroom. His most critically acclaimed film was Chelsea Girls, where he projected two 16mm-films simultaneously with the sound being raised for one and then another projection. He also engaged with performance, most notably with the Velvet Undergound and Nico.
In 1968, Valerie Solanas, a marginal figure in Warhol's scene, shot both Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya, an art critic and curator, at The Factory. Solanas justified the shooting by claiming that Andy Warhol had too much control over her life. The shooting was overshadowed in the media by the assassination of J.F. Kennedy only two days later. While Amaya only suffered minor injuries, Andy Warhol was not as lucky. He had his chest opened and his heart massaged so as to stimulate it. He greatly suffered physically through the rest of his life from the attack and the attempted murder had a strong effect in his life and art. The scene around his The Factory studio became much stricter and Warhol quieted down. About the shooting, Warhol said that it felt like he was watching television, that he did not feel anything.
Throughout the seventies, Warhol's work became more entrepreneurial and he spent much of his time with portrait commissions by rich patrons such as Mick Jagger, Liza Minneli, John Lennon and the Sha of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It was also in the seventies that Warhol did his famous Mao Zedong painting, founded the Interview magazine with Gererd Malaga, and published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.
In the 1980s Andy Warhol re-emerged partly due to his friendship with young successful artists such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Enzo Cucchi. It was also in the 80s that he produced his famous painting of Michael Jackson, in the peak of his success with the album Thriller. He was in one hand once more heavily criticized for being a superficial, commercial artist that offered no depth in his works and in the other hand praised by other critics that saw in his work the ultimate expression of the spirit of the seventies America. Warhol also had a difficult relation to the media, to whom he either played dumb or refused to explain anything. In his words: "Just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it."
Andy Warhol became known as the "Pope of Pop" for his role played in the development and diffusion of pop art. With pop art popular subjects, celebrities, mass produced objects, were included in the artist's palette. Such ideas was already being in use by artists such as Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Andy Warhol went as far as reducing his images to the icon's themselves, subtracting as the artistic "touch" from them and turning the production more and more into an almost factory like style. Emblematic are his painting of Campbell's soup cans, which he claimed to have eaten for most of his life, the images of celebrities produced with silkscreen, for which he had many assistants producing multiples with variations dictated by himself, and a BMW commission to pain a race car which Warhol did in a total of 23 minutes.