[Andy Warhol, with Archie by Jack Mitchell 1973]
"Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again." - Andy Warhol from Popism: The Warhol '60s.
Andy Warhol was one of the most prolific, talented and influential artists of the 20th century. He is known today most notably as a founder and major exponent of the American Pop Art movement. As well as being an artist, he was also a designer, film maker, music producer, commercial illustrator, author and magazine publisher.
Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928. He was the fourth child of Czechoslovakian immigrants. At eight years old, he was diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea – also known as St Vitus’s Dance – a nervous system disease that left him bedridden for months.
During that time, his mother gave him art lessons, which he took up enthusiastically, demonstrating an early talent for drawing and design. He received his first camera when he was nine and began developing his images himself in the basement of the family home. He began attending free art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
After school, Warhol pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design at Carnegie Institute for Technology. His professors did not always agree with his unusual style and he was once forced to do summer school to maintain his position at the college. In 1949, he moved to New York City to begin a hugely successful art career.
Warhol started out as an award-winning commercial illustrator. He created ads for shoes for I. Miller, drew Christmas cards for Tiffany & Company, and created book and albums covers. His work favoured the use of the blotted-ink style, in which the outlines of drawings look rough and incomplete. The blotted-ink look was created by drawing onto a non-absorbent material like tracing paper and then pressing the picture against another more absorbent paper and tracing over the outlines.
In 1961, Warhol started making and exhibiting Pop Art paintings that focused on mass-produced commercial goods. Unsure what subject to paint, his friend suggested that he portray the things he loved most, like money and cans of soup.
Warhol followed the advice, creating artworks featuring, among other things, Campbell soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, hamburgers, and ice creams. His work was groundbreaking because it united high art with lower forms of art such as advertising and packaging. His first exhibits included such artworks as 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles, and 100 Dollar Bills.
At first, Warhol painted his Pop Art works, but he soon found he wasn’t able to produce the paintings fast enough this way. He turned to silk-screening, in which specially prepared sections of silk are used as a stencil to create similar patterns multiple times. It was a style he stuck with for the rest of his career.
During the 1960s, Warhol expanded on the Pop Art theme. In a 1964 exhibit entitled The American Supermarket, works by six prominent artists including Warhol were displayed in a typical supermarket environment. Among Warhol’s most famous works, a painting of a can of Campbell’s soup, sold at the exhibit for $1,500.
Around this time, Warhol also opened his new studio, ‘The Factory’, in New York City, in which he debuted his first sculpture exhibition. The Factory became the ‘it’ venue for fashionable parties attended by a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and other celebrities and socialites.
As a child, Warhol collected cards of his favourite film stars. In the 1960s, he began painting them. His portraits include such celebrities as Marilyn Munroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elvis Presley. In fact, in the 1970s, Warhol was commissioned for hundreds of portrait paintings and this developed into a major aspect of his career.
In 1968, a shocking event changed Warhol’s life. On 3 June, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas walked into The Factory and shot Warhol in the chest. Thirty minutes later he was declared clinically dead. In a last attempt to resuscitate him, a surgeon cut open Warhol’s chest and massaged his heart. Warhol survived, but his recovery back to health was prolonged.
Warhol lived a quieter life in the 1970s, focusing on his portrait commissions. These artworks were criticized by reviewers as being superficial and commercial. Others argue today that these very qualities are what make Warhol’s works brilliant, since they are an accurate reflection of 1970s American culture.
Andy Warhol died on 22 February 1987 in New York City after a routine gallbladder surgery. He was 58 years old. After his death, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was created in New York to support young artists.
Warhol helped transform contemporary art. Today his works are exhibited in many major museums and art galleries around the world, including in Australia at the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Richard Tarrant - BioGoogle+
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