Andy Warhol (originally Andrew Warhola, Jr.) was born on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents came from a village in the Carpathian Mountains, in what is now Slovakia. Warhol’s father was a coal miner who died of peritonitis when Andy was thirteen. In third grade, Warhol had Sydenham’s chorea (a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities..) He became a hypochondriac, developing a fear of hospitals and doctors. Often bedridden as a child, he became an outcast at school and bonded with his mother. 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 and style.
At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Warhol gained fame for his whimsical ink drawings for shoe advertisements. He also illustrated many record covers for RCA. As me moved from commercial illustration to fine art, Warhol began using a silk screen printmaking process to make his paintings. Initially, he used hand-drawn images but later evolved into a process of silkscreening photographs on the canvas, then painting over the top. He liked to create a series of one image with different variations. From his illustrations to his fine art, Warhol had a very casual and loose style, he embraced mistakes, saying “When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”
His most famous works centered around easily recognizable, everyday subjects. (This is a key aspect of Pop art, which challenged the traditions of fine art by including images from popular culture such as advertising, celebrities and news.) For his first first major exhibition Warhol painted cans of Campbell’s Soup, which he said he had for lunch for most of his life. Andy was always coy with how he felt about his art and it’s meaning. Of his coke cans and bottles he said:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture. His work was controversial because it was so openly driven by consumerism. Especially later in his career, he was heavily criticized for becoming merely a “business artist” He said “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art” Warhol’s art used many types of media, including hand drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. He was also a pioneer in computer-generated art. He lived a crazy and glamorous life, surrounded in his studio by artists, actors, and celebrities that jockeyed for his attention.
In 1968, Warhol was shot by a fan with mental disease and almost died, afterward his life and work became much quieter and less public. Warhol devoted much of his time to rounding up new, rich patrons for portrait commissions. His health never improved significantly and on February 22, 1987, he died from complications from a surgery. He left his considerable wealth to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts with the goal of supporting work of a challenging and often experimental nature. He also has the largest museum devoted to one artist in the US in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
What do you think? Is his art genius or empty? Did he paint because he thought it was great or because he thought it was junk? Is his work a commentary on the shallowness, repetitiveness, and commercialism of consumer culture, or is it a celebration of supermarkets and Hollywood?
Today we are going to experiment with some Warhol-style art. We have several copies of poplar images or draw a set of your own. Then experiment with different styles and techniques to create variations on the image. You can use different colors or manipulate the image to change it. Have fun and don’t worry about mistakes, Andy didn’t!
After you have made 6 variations on your image you can mount them (with glue stick) to a sheet of colored paper to create your final piece. You can use crayons, colored pencils or markers to give each image a different feel. Also feel free to cut and put the image back together.