Andy Warhol represent popular culture type of art or “pop art,” an art movement which was very popular in the second half of the twentieth century. While he is famous for his unique paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup cans, he also created tons of inspiring artworks which included silk screens, commercial advertisements and films.
"Pop" is a shortened term for popular art which became an important art ethos in the late 1950s (Delves, p. 12). It is also considered as an art movement which intends to “blur the boundaries between "high" art and "low" culture” (Scherman & Dalton, p. 49). This intention is attained by creating paintings or sculptures of mass culture objects and media stars. The striking characteristics of pop art is that it leaves behind the hierarchy of culture and that art may borrow from any source (p. 50).
They say that pop artists such as Warhol searched for the traces of trauma in the mediated world of advertising, cartoons, and popular imagery. They were the first ones to discover that there is no boundary to anything. The concrete environment can be mediated to the natural world or to the soul or to anything. Pop artists also supported the notion that everything is inter-connected and they evidence this literally thorugh their artworks (p. 50).
While pop art goes beyond an extensive body of work, with diverse attitudes and postures and without emotional attachment. As compared against abstract expressionism, pop art is collectively ambivalent and detached. Another important charcater of pop art which makes it appealing is that it “seemingly embraced the post World War II manufacturing and media boom” (Warhol & Pat, p. 290). It follows this kind of “reproduction” by reintroducing imagery into modern art and debunking traditional art hierarchies through its commonplace illustration of items as art.
Art critics have depicted the pop art image selections as a completely attractive advertisement of the industrialized, capitalist market and the market goods it distributed (such as Warhol’s canned soup). Other critics interpreted these artistic rendtions as cultural criticism in itself, as pop artists elevate anythign and everything to high art. Their artmaking process ties the commodity status of the goods being visually represented into the status of being an art object. It reduces every art work as basically a commodity. Hence, the dichotomy in itself is very enticing and the visual images produced by the pop artists like Andy Warhol are very refreshing and modern. They were so into commercial art, which was very contextual of the market days ahead.
Background information on Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol and his two older brothers grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their parents were Czechoslovakian immigrants. In his early days, Andy has already shown his interest in art making, he was drawn to coloring, drawing and cutting and pasting pictures (Scherman & Dalton, p. 10). His artistic mother encouraged this interest by giving him a chocolate bar whenever he completed coloring a page from his coloring book (p. 10).
His elementary schooling became traumatic because Warhol contracted St. Vitus' dance, a disease characterized by uncontrollable shaking due to the ailment in the nervous system. Because of this, Warhol missed a lot of school days since he needed long period of bed rests. He was also embarrassed by the large, pink blotches on his skin due to this sickness. This affected his self-esteem. In his high school days, Warhol took art classes from both his high school and from the Carnegie Museum (p. 11). Like some typical artists, he was somewhat a social outcast. He was usually quiet, sketching all the time. Physically, he was also a pale young guy with white-blonde hair. He started to take on the cinema and enjoyed movies. His celebrity memorabilia would take on as his inspiration for his later artworks, particularly autographed photos (p. 11).
After graduating, he directly studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He majored in pictorial design and finished the course in 1949 (p. 12). After eleven years, Andy Warhol has established himself as an artist. This was then the period of Pop Art, a new style in art which originated in England in the middle of the 1950s. He started with the blotted-line technique then painted on a canvas. Then, Warhol began to paint with Coke bottles and comic strips. Finally, he had a lucky break in December, 1961 when he got an inspiring idea of painting what he liked best – money and a can of soup. So, Andy Warhol painted these two images.
He had his first art exhibition in 1962 at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles. He exhibited his paintings of Campbell's soup. He showcased 32 types of Campbell's soup and sold each of these historic paintings. Warhol was able to sell all the paintings for $1,000 (P. 13).
Many people believe that Warhol was asexual in his later life. When he was still alive, Warhol interestingly produced erotic photographs and drawings of male nudes. Many of his most famous works i.e. portraits and films drew on a gay underground world. To illustrate, he has painted Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and made films like Blow Job, My Hustler, and Lonesome Cowboys. All these subjects seem to be drawn from a homosexual orientation (Michelson, p. 34). To add, it was said that most of Warhol’s films premiered in gay porn theaters (p. 34). However, certain biographers like Victor Bockris, Richard Meyer and Bob Colacello confirmed that he was actually intimate with people and not asexual as it was rumored (p. 35). The more important relation of his sexuality is how it has influenced his artworks and how this has defined his relationship to the art world. However, Warhol usually refused from explaining or commenting on his works (p. 36). He confined himself to short and categorical “Yes” or “No” answers.
Andy Warhol was a real Byzantine Rite Catholic. He went to weekly masses and he regularly volunteered at New York homeless shelters. His later works carried discreet religious themes. When he died, there was also a body of religious-themed works in his estate. The priest at Warhol's Saint Vincent's Church attested that Warhol visited the church almost every day (p. 37). Some of his art is noticeably influenced by the eastern Christian iconographic tradition, which was also seen in his places of worship.
Why Andy Warhol?
Andy Warhol is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was the forefront of the American Pop Art Movement. He was a global artist and he earned this through his avant-garde Pop Art paintings and screenprintings. Warhols was also a diverse personality in the art world. He has been known for his unique relations with bohemians, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats. He was also very controversial due to the nature of his works, his near fatal shooting, and his sexuality (Delves Broughton, p. 21). For these, I recognize and admire him as the Prince of Pop Art.
I particularly chose Andy Warhol since I am really a fanatic of Pop Art. I believe that Warhol’s Campbell Soup, in addition to the Marilyn Monroe’s iconic visual image, is the epitome of Pop Art as a global art movement and as a cultural ethos. This is a very fresh face of modernism. It shunned from the typical "high art" art subjects such as classical history, morality, mythology, etc. (Yau, p. 27). As the pop artists elevate the contemporary images to high art, it also signify a new way of dealing with culture. This signals the commodification of art which the previous art movement seems to be discreet about. Popular culture then reaches the status of fine art. This has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.
In fact, I was a part of an Andy Warhol tribute which is entitled “Paintball Pop Art/Making of.” (One can view this artmaking video .) In this artmaking process, the memebrs of our team posiitoned ourselves as paintball players aiming at one big canvass. We went in to shoot with our own distinctly colroed paintball guns and went to draw a tribute image of Marilyn Monroe. The image and the paintball shooting themselves serve to highlight the artmaking of Andy Warhol. The team was so proud and so overwhlemed of the brilliant Marilyn Monroe image which we all produced in this modern sport/hobby.
Andy Warhol is truly representative artist of Pop Art because he is very sensational just like his artworks. His personality is also aligned with the certain quirkiness of this artform. As well written, Warhol was said to have a rather “bizarre personality” and he was described as extremely “eccentric” (p. 31). For instance, he dyed his blonde hair during the 1950s and he wore a famous silver grey wig in the 1980’s (p. 16). These quirkiness is very representative of his art, soemthing which I think truly makes him a real person and a pop artist. He is very attuned to his work by the way he represents it by his personal style and character.
Aside from his personality and character, I also like Warhol’s work ethics. He was very drawn to his artmaking and he was truly workaholic. It reminds me of the diligence and hard work of other prolific artists such as Kandinsky and Pollock who also produced tremendous artworks and were also famous by their highly productive artmaking. According to Yau (p. 18), Warhol was obsessed by his ambition to become famous and wealthy. I really admire his hard work because it only goes to show that the American Dream is indeed attained by such diligent and hard work. He achieved success by his hard work and this makes him more inspiring.
How was that particular artist influential within his or her lifetime?
Andy Warhol pesonified Pop Art when he created various “mass-produced” images from photographs of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jackie Onassis during the 1960’s. He also painted the typical American products as representated by the infamous Campbell's Soup Cans & Coca-Cola bottles and Warhol’s comic strips such as Superman & Popeye (Scherman & Dalton, p. 20). These paintings brought fame to Andy Warhol as he was widely known for these monumental works. It led to his success and fame.
Warhol exhibited the Campbell Soup Cans in New York in 1962 courtesy of the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. His Baseball, Coca-Cola, Do It Yourself and Dance Diagram paintings were also exhibited by the Stable Gallery. In 1963, Warhol established his own art studio which he called the “Factory.” It was located at 231 East 47th Street in New York (p. 21). Warhol employed "art workers" to mass produce major prints and posters and other items like shoes which he also designed (p. 21).
In addition to his popular paintings, Warhol also created box sculptures such as Brillo Box and Heinz Box. He also experimented with other media, which included record production (The Velvet Underground), magazine publishing (Interview) and film making. His avant-garde films such as Chelsea Girls, Blow Job and Empire have become classics of the underground genre (p. 22). Warhol’s The Factory showcased an extensive range of artists, writers, musicians and underground celebrities.
Andy Warhol was taken by morbid concepts and he remarkably produced a very vibrant piece of a Marilyn Monroe image. The image below shows the beautiful, resonating, and brilliantly colored image of Marilyn Monroe as Warhol successfully created.
The Marilyn canvases also exemplified the early silkscreen painting method which Warhol used and experimented on. He recounted:
In August 62 I started doing silkscreens. I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect. With silkscreening you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it. When Marilyn Monroe happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face the first Marilyns (Color, Vision and Art Website, p. 1).
Warhol worked on photo-stencils in screenprinting. He utilized photographic images for his screenprints. The screen was rendered through a photographic process and then with the use of different color inks, he printed on the screen through a rubber squeegee which was pressed into the painting (Yau, p. 26).
The Portraits which Warhol painted included the following: , . Warhol also produced more than 300 experimental underground films, which were greatly described as bizarre and sometimes pornographic.
At the height of his fame, Warhol was highly criticized for "catapulting" obbjects to consumerism. Art critics were scandalized by his open embrace of the mass market culture. Warhol embodied the shift of the makret culture and this has been formalized by an art symposium wherein he personified the true meaning of pop art movement and how it debunked the notion of high art and mass produced art in a fine, lucrative fashion. His printmaking also became an instrument to “proliferate” art. It has been trasnfromed as an Art Producing Machine. A very interesting Warhol show took place in his 1964 exhibit entitled "The American Supermarket" (Michelson, p. 51). This show was held in Paul Bianchini's Upper East Side Gallery. The show was presented as a common, small supermarket environment. The goods to be sold featured artworks of six famous Pop artists during that time. It included the controversial artists like Billy Apple, Mary Inman, and Robert Watts. In this famous exhibit, Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's soup was sold at $1,500, while each autographed can was sold for $6. This art show modeled a mass events wherein the general public was confronted with the perrenial questionof “What is Art?”
Andy Warhol, as an epitome of Pop Art, is once and for all, a quintessence artist. He had the unique personality and skills and talents to bar the walls between fine arts and the commercial arts used for advertising, magazine illustrations, comic books, etc. In short, he has bridged the paths for arts and commercial prints. He also had the talent of sensationalizing his artmaking. He once expressed his philosophy in one poignant sentence, “When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums" (p. 79). In minimizing the role of his own hand in the reproduction of his famous works, Warhol sparked a new revolution in thinking and conceiving art. Hence, his work instantly became very controversial and more sensational.
Another sensational incident took place in his Factory studio in June 3, 1968. At one time, a certain Valerie Solanas, a regular studio visitor and the sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) entered Warhol’s Factory and shot Warhol. She waited for hiim at the lobby and when Warhol came togetehr with his two friends, Solanas shot him. She fired three shots. Warhol was near fatal and he was briefly declared dead. It was recounted how the doctors ripped his chest and massaged his heart to help stimulate its movement again (p. 95). Solanas also shot the art critic, Mario Amaya, and she also tried to shoot Warhol's manager, Fred Hughes. However, the gun failed. She instantly left the studio.
In the 1980's, after a considerably silent and unproductive period in his art career, Andy Warhol poped back into the contemporary art scene as a mentor and friend to young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf (McGill, p. 1). He collaborated with Basquiat on a series of paintings in which he ceased to mass produce through his mechanical reproduction techniques and actually painted individual paintings for the first time since the early 1960's.
In February 23, 1987, Andy Warhol died at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. This was just after his gall bladder surgery. While his initial condition after the operation was stable, he had suffered a heart attack in his sleep. He died around 5:30 A.M (p. 1). In all his art accomplishments, Warhol can be best appreciated by his special talents for inviting public attention, for stating unforgettable quotes and for finding the individual visual image which shocks and impress a lot of people. He was one of the very few, influential artists of the twentieth century because of his personality and his artworks. He was also very much admired by all the other artists, especially those who followed his footsteps.
Color, Vision and Art Website. Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Prints. Accessed on 07 December 2012 < http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/marilyns.html>.
Delves Broughton, Philip. The Art of the Sale. New York, NY: The Penguin Press. 2012. Print.
McGillis, D. February 23, 1987. Andy Warhol, Pop Artist, Dies. The New York Times. Accessed on 07 December 2012 < http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/23/obituaries/andy-warhol-pop-artist-dies.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm>
Michelson, Annette. Andy Warhol (October Files). Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. 2001.
Scherman, Tony & Dalton, David, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol. HarperCollins, New York, N.Y. 2010.
Warhol, Andy; Pat Hacket. POPism: the Warhol '60s. New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1980. pp. 287–295.
. In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press. 1993.