We think that Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, but nobody is quite sure of this or the other details of Andy's early life because of his well known tendency to make up different stories about his life every time he was asked about his background. This tendency is part of the mystique that surrounds Warhol, a mystique that was very carefully cultivated by the artist as he caught the attention of the media and became an art world star. We do know that his father was a construction worker from Pennsylvania named Andy Warhola. His mother's name was Julia, and he had two brothers, Paul and John. The family emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1921. We also know that he was raised in Pittsburgh and that Warhol's father died when Andy was 14.
As a boy, Andy cut pictures from comic books and also did drawings of his own. From 1945 to 1949, Warhol attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology where he studied art. There he was involved in a rigorous program of formal training with a specialization in commercial art. He graduated with a B.A. in 1949. Warhol moved to New York City in 1949 and, for more than ten years, earned his living as an advertising artist. During this time, he received many awards and was considered a gifted and successful commercial artist. He specialized in drawing shoes, and did advertisements for several exclusive New York department stores, including Bloomingdales, as well as doing window displays for Bonwit Teller and working for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. During this time, he and his mother lived together in a house on Lexington Avenue that they shared with nine cats all named "Tom". The nine cats with the same name was an early indication of two important themes in his work- repetition and boredom.
Warhol began to paint in 1960, when an art dealer advised him to paint what was most important to him. Since he liked money he stenciled paintings of money. He also liked Coca Cola so he painted pictures of Coke bottles, and since he had eaten Campbell's soup for lunch everyday for twenty years, and painted pictures of cans of Campbell's soup. He often repeated the cans over and over again, row after row. He became fascinated with the monotony and repetition of familiar objects. This fascination with common everyday objects had started with Duchamp and had continued with the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. This new style became known as Pop Art, a name given to it by the prominent English art critic, Lawrence Alloway, and Andy Warhol became the most famous of the American Pop artists.
In order to avoid the repetition of constantly repainting the same image, Warhol adopted the technique of photo silkscreen in 1962. Using this technique, he portrayed many celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and Jacqueline Kennedy, giving his sharpest insights of the self-destructive nature of stardom through these works.
By 1964, Warhol had established his first "Factory." This is where he could carry out mass-produced work, running off silkscreen prints with minor variations, working with a number of assistants in a large studio.
Warhol's first three-dimensional sculpture involved 100 nearly identical wooden boxes with the Brillo soap-pad design stenciled on each. This series lead to a number of other similar series involving wooden versions of cardboard cartons of supermarket commodities.
Although he had made some earlier films, in 1965, Warhol started to devote much of his time to making motion pictures. He often said that this was easier than manufacturing paintings. The films were highly experimental underground movies that exploited amateurism and the chance happening. They were also very, very boring, which of course they were, quite intentionally. Boredom was very much part of Warhol's style, both in life and art, and a very real part of his aesthetic. Some of the films were "Eat," "Haircut," "Sleep," and "Empire." The titles describe the subject of each film, for instance, "Sleep" is a movie of a man sleeping and "Empire" is an excruciatingly boring film of the Empire State Building. A second group of films made by Warhol were based on erotic themes, with plots often lifted from porno movies, including "The Chelsea Girls," "Trash," and "Bike Boy."
In 1968, Warhol was shot by an actress, Valerie Solanis, who had appeared in "Bike Boy" and was the founder and the only member of S.C.U.M. (The Society for Cutting Up Men). He almost died from his injuries although after his recovery, Warhol had painter Alice Neel paint a portrait of him exposing his scars, wearing only a truss, as if he was proud of his wounds.
Warhol was drawn to the glamour of the rich and the glitter of the pop rock world. He opened a nightclub, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which had a projected light show and a house band known as the Velvet Underground. He also published a gossip magazine, Andy Warhol's Interview.
So many of Warhol's works dealt with celebrities, from political figures to rock stars to movie stars to athletes, that it is no wonder that he once observed, in what became his most famous statement, that "In the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes."
After the Solanis incident, Warhol always feared going into a hospital, and he often said that if he did he would die. His intuition proved to be tragically correct when he died in New York in 1987 from complications following a simple gall bladder operation.
Let's go to Pittsburgh to the Andy Warhol Museum where we can learn more about Andy and see some of his work.
Page author: C.A.