Happy Birthday to the man whose personality was bigger than life itself, and who elevated Pop Art to a whole new level of stardom! Happy Birthday to Andy Warhol, who was born on August 6th, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! It is almost impossible to summarize in a short write up the scope of Warhol’s life and grandiose personality, as well as his unmeasurable footprint on history of art, as it is also almost impossible to say anything about the artist that hasn’t already been said before in numerous articles, biographies, books, and Warhol’s own publications. We are all familiar with Warhol’s work, from the infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), to Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), Double Elvis (1963) and the instantly recognizable banana on The Velvet Underground’s 1967 album cover. Warhol was born to Julia and Ondrej Warhola, two Czechoslovakian immigrants, in 1928. Being a more of a quiet and reserved child, he would rather stay in his room listening to records and collect photographs of movie stars, a hobby which later materialized into Warhol’s obsession with celebrity, prompting him to surround himself with a circle of actors and models, later founding Interview Magazine with Gerard Malanga in 1969, a publication that is still around today and focuses mainly on celebrities. At the age of nine, Andy’s mother, who always supported his artistic aspirations and who was an amateur artist in her own right, gave her son his very first camera, an event which later lead Warhol to creating close to 600 films, ranging from a few minutes to 24 hours long. In 1949 Warhol moved to New York City and began making a living with commercial advertisements and window paintings. His portfolio included commissions by The New Yorker magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazine.
In the early 1950s, having changed his name from Warhola to Warhol, Andy decided to try to make it as a serious artist in his own right. His first solo show was at the Hugo Gallery in New York City, with a group show at the Museum of Modern Art to follow in 1956. A great admiration for both Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns inspired Warhol to also experiment with his own artistic output. In early 1960s Warhol began to incorporate advertisements and comic strips into his paintings, with the style and brushwork loosely echoing Abstract Expressionism. In order to achieve his large scale works, Warhol would project an image from a projector onto a canvas and then go over the projection with paint right onto the canvas, without a pencil stencil underneath, hence, these earlier experimentations with pop art appeared more painterly, with a sense of the artist’s hand and involvement. However, upon starting on his infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1961, Warhol began removing the idea of himself from his work by projecting the image of the cans onto the canvas, but this time, tracing the projections and then painting it over. In 1962 Warhol began to experiment with silkscreening, another way by which the artist was able to remove his hand from his work. Warhol’s first screenprints were on either side of a one dollar bill, depicting mostly commercial items and goods.
After achieving moderate success in 1964, Warhol was able to relocate to 231 East 47th Street, an apartment that was dubbed “The Factory”, and hire an assistant, which allowed for Warhol to mass produce his work to the extent of completely removing his persona from his work, making the output more systematic and almost void of meaning, begging the question “What makes art, art?”, a notion that was first introduced by Marcel Duchamp when he created his infamous Fountain (1917), a “readymade” that was a urinal Duchamp purchased, flipped upside down, signed “R. Mutt” and displayed at the first ever Society of Independent Artists exhibition, thus posing a question “What is art” and what is worthy of a gallery and museum. In August of 1962, Marilyn Monroe passed away from an overdose of sleeping pills, and Warhol, being fascinated with Hollywood and celebrity, created a series of screen prints from a 1953 publicity photo for her film Niagara. Most notable of the works being the Gold Marilyn (1962). By recreating the same image over and over again, Warhol was suggesting that Marilyn as a person was reproduced, publicized and talked about so much that the idea of the real Marilyn got lost in the translation, sort of speak. Just like an image that is screen printed over and over again begins to lose its clarity, so does the personality of an individual who keeps getting tangled in and eventually regurgitated by media and fans.
In 1963 Warhol began his fascination with death, embarking on his Death and Disaster series. The 70+ works depicted such events as suicides, car or motorcycle crashes, and even electric chairs (one of which was just recently discovered by singer Alice Cooper in his storage locker!) There are many opinions on how to view the Disaster series. One side of it is that the constant repetition of the same image is Warhol’s own way of learning how to deal with death and mortality, however, on the flipside, it can also be viewed as a way to remove oneself from letting horror effect too personally. It becomes easier to disassociate from horrific events ones they begin to circulate over and over again, being reproduced the same way that Marilyn was being reproduced throughout the media until there was no more true Norma Jean left.
In 1968, writer Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya at Warhol’s studio. Prior to the attack Solanas has tried to retrieve a script that she had written and let Warhol read, but was turned away. While Amaya suffered only minor injuries, Warhol was seriously injured and was required to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. Warhol was rarely seen without his shirt on, however, in 1970, Alice Neel was able to paint Warhol in an incredibly intimate portrayal of the artist who sat for her in his corset. Pictured here is Andy Warhol, Tunafish Disaster, 1963, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California