Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987

"I am a deeply superficial person" ~ Andy Warhol

Early Life

Warhol was born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth child of Ondrej Warhola (Americanized as Andrew Warhola, Sr., 1889–1942) and Julia (née Zavacká, 1892–1972). His parents were working-class Lemko emigrants from Mikó, Austria-Hungary (now called Miková, located in today's northeastern Slovakia) who emigrated to America in the early 1900s. Warhol's father worked in a coal mine in Pittsburgh. Andy Warhol had two elder brothers—Pavol (Paul), the eldest, was born before the family emigrated; Ján was born in Pittsburgh. Pavol's son, James Warhola, became a successful children's book illustrator.

 

In third grade, Warhol had Sydenham's chorea (also known as St. Vitus' Dance), the nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities, which is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever which causes skin pigmentation blotchiness. At times when he was confined to bed, he drew, listened to the radio and collected pictures of movie stars around his bed. Warhol later described this period as very important in the development of his personality, skill-set and preferences. When Warhol was 13, his father died in an accident.

 

As a teenager, Warhol graduated from Schenley High School in 1945. Also as a teen, Warhol won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. After graduating from high school, his intentions were to study art education at the University of Pittsburgh in the hope of becoming an art teacher, but his plans changed and he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design in 1949. Later that year, he moved to New York City and began a career in magazine illustration and advertising.

 

Early Career

Warhol's early career was dedicated to commercial and advertising art, where his first commission had been to draw shoes for Glamour magazine in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, Warhol worked as a designer for shoe manufacturer Israel Miller. 

Warhol's "whimsical" ink drawings of shoe advertisements figured in some of his earliest showings at the Bodley Gallery in New York.

 

Warhol was an early adopter of the silk screen printmaking process as a technique for making paintings. A young Warhol was taught silk screen printmaking techniques by Max Arthur Cohnat his graphic arts business in Manhattan. While working in the shoe industry, Warhol developed his "blotted line" technique, applying ink to paper and then blotting the ink while still wet, which was akin to a printmaking process on the most rudimentary scale. His use of tracing paper and ink allowed him to repeat the basic image and also to create endless variations on the theme, a method that prefigures his 1960s silk-screen canvas. 

 

Pope of Pop

By the beginning of the 1960s, pop art was an experimental form that several artists were independently adopting; some of these pioneers, such as Roy Lichtenstein, would later become synonymous with the movement. Warhol, who would become famous as the "Pope of Pop", turned to this new style, where popular subjects could be part of the artist's palette. It was during the 1960s that Warhol began to make paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom cloudselectric chairsCampbell's Soup CansCoca-Cola bottles, celebrities such as Marilyn MonroeElvis PresleyMarlon BrandoTroy DonahueMuhammad Ali, and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as newspaper headlines or photographs of police dogs attacking African-American protesters during the Birmingham campaign in the civil rights movement. During these years, he founded his studio, "The Factory" and gathered about him a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities. 

 

New York City's Museum of Modern Art hosted a Symposium on pop art in December 1962 during which artists such as Warhol were attacked for "capitulating" to consumerism. Critics were scandalized by Warhol's open embrace of market culture. This symposium set the tone for Warhol's reception. A pivotal event was the 1964 exhibit The American Supermarket, a show held in Paul Bianchini's Upper East Side gallery. The show was presented as a typical U.S. small supermarket environment, except that everything in it—from the produce, canned goods, meat, posters on the wall, etc.—was created by six prominent pop artists of the time, among them the controversial (and like-minded) Billy Apple, Mary Inman, and Robert Watts. Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's soup cost $1,500 while each autographed can sold for $6. The exhibit was one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the perennial question of what art is.

 

Attempted murder

On June 3, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and Mario Amaya, art critic and curator, at Warhol's studio, The Factory. Before the shooting, Solanas had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. She authored in 1967 the SCUM Manifesto, a separatist feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men; and appeared in the 1968 Warhol film I, a Man. Earlier on the day of the attack, Solanas had been turned away from the Factory after asking for the return of a script she had given to Warhol. The script had apparently been misplaced. After her arrest, she explained that Warhol "had too much control over my life." She was subsequently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

 

Warhol had this to say about the attack:

Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there—I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen in life that's unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television—you don't feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it's all television.

 

Late Career

Compared to the success and scandal of Warhol's work in the 1960s, the 1970s were a much quieter decade, as he became more entrepreneurial. According to Bob Colacello, Warhol devoted much of his time to rounding up new, rich patrons for portrait commissions—including Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, his wife Empress Farah Pahlavi, his sister Princess Ashraf PahlaviMick JaggerLiza MinnelliJohn LennonDiana Ross, and Brigitte Bardot. Warhol's famous portrait of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong was created in 1973. He also founded, with Gerard MalangaInterview magazine, and published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975). An idea expressed in the book: "Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art."

 

Warhol had a re-emergence of critical and financial success in the 1980s, partially due to his affiliation and friendships with a number of prolific younger artists, who were dominating the "bull market" of 1980s New York art: Jean-Michel BasquiatJulian SchnabelDavid Salle and other so-called Neo-Expressionists, as well as members of the Transavantgarde movement in Europe, including Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi. Before the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, he teamed with 15 other artists, including David Hockney and Cy Twombly, and contributed a Speed Skater print to the Art and Sport collection. The Speed Skater was used for the official Sarajevo Winter Olympics poster.

 

By this period, Warhol was being criticized for becoming merely a "business artist". In 1979, reviewers disliked his exhibits of portraits of 1970s personalities and celebrities, calling them superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects. They also criticized his 1980 exhibit of 10 portraits at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, entitled Jewish Geniuses, which Warhol—who was uninterested in Judaism and Jews—had described in his diary as "They're going to sell." In hindsight, however, some critics have come to view Warhol's superficiality and commerciality as "the most brilliant mirror of our times," contending that "Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s."

 

Death

Warhol died in Manhattan at 6:32 a.m. on February 22, 1987, at age 58. According to news reports, he had been making a good recovery from gallbladder surgery at New York Hospital before dying in his sleep from a sudden post-operative irregular heartbeat. Prior to his diagnosis and operation, Warhol delayed having his recurring gallbladder problems checked, as he was afraid to enter hospitals and see doctors. His family sued the hospital for inadequate care, saying that the arrhythmia was caused by improper care and water intoxication. The malpractice case was quickly settled out of court; Warhol's family received an undisclosed sum of money.

 

Warhol's will dictated that his entire estate—with the exception of a few modest legacies to family members—would go to create a foundation dedicated to the "advancement of the visual arts". Warhol had so many possessions that it took Sotheby's nine days to auction his estate after his death; the auction grossed more than US$20 million.

 

In 1987, in accordance with Warhol's will, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts began. The foundation serves as the estate of Andy Warhol, but also has a mission "to foster innovative artistic expression and the creative process" and is "focused primarily on supporting work of a challenging and often experimental nature."