Since attending Warhol lectures at uni I’m a huge fan of Andy. His personality was so great and his books inspired me a lot. That’s why the master of Pop is my artist of the month.
As soon as reading the lecture title “Andy Warhol: machinism and subjectivity” I thought it wouldn’t be that interesting because I don’t really like machinery. But everything turned out different and I’m so happy that I’ve chosen this course anyway. Before going to these lectures I rarely knew anything about Warhol. I just knew that he had those blonde hair, he used to live in New York and painted/printed Marilyn’s. Now I discovered there’s so much more about the originally named “Andrew Warhola”.
He was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, his parents were Slovakian immigrants. The family lived in a poor district of the city. At the age of 8 Andy got infected by a rare and sometimes fatal disease of the nervous system that left him bedridden for several months. It was then when the young boy discovered drawing and he would spend hours with a pencil and sheet. He was also a big fan of movies, and when his mother bought him a camera at the age of 9 he took up photography as well. He was also fascinated by filmstars and he used to hang up star’s posters in his room. When Warhol was 14 another tragedy occurred. His dad died and Andy refused to go to the funeral because he was always scared of death. Additionally he rarely knew his dad.
In 1945 he started studying Graphic design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Right after graduating in 1949 he moved to New York City with a couple of friends. Warhol knew that was the artistic place to be and he hoped for a greater future there. His big dream was to become famous and earn a lot of money. And he made it! He started working as a commercial artist (Graphic designer) in New York but it wasn’t easy at all in the beginning. Warhol worked day and night for his dream and besides the fact that he didn’t really have any close friends whom he could tell about his problems Warhol actually wanted to sell his own artwork instead of working for firms and illustrate stuff they wanted to. He asked a few gallerists if they could show his work but all of them found he wouldn’t be a good artist. By the way Warhol also suffered a lot because of his sexual orientation. He was homosexual but he was quite afraid of nearness, it made him get mad if people touched him. So he never really had a relationship and that made him feel lonely and sad. On the other hand he enjoyed being alone sometimes.
“Fantasy love is much better than reality love.”
“The biggest price you pay for love is that you have to have somebody around, you can’t be on your own, which is always so much better.”
“Couples do become like each other when they’re together for a long time, because you like the person and you pick up their mannerisms and their little good habits. And you eat the same food.”
All 3 quotes by: Andy W. in “The Philosophy” (chapter: Love)
Even though Warhol seemed to be a shy person, kind of an observer, soon his circle of friends would be growing and he knew it was only for the money. By then he earned a lot of money and was one of the most popular and successful graphic designers of New York. But the friends didn’t make him happier. Warhol said that he always felt like he was picking up his friend’s problems. So one day he went to a psychiatrists to ask what his own problem would be. At the end of the day Warhol bought his first television and that became the best “medicine” against all of his problems. He kept on the tv while people told him about their problems.
“When I first got my TV set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships with other people. I’d been hurt a lot to the degree you can only be hurt if you care a lot. So in the late 50s I started an affair with my television. But I didn’t get married until 1964 when I got my first tape recorder. My wife.” (Andy W. in “The Philosophy”)
Andy was obsessed with technical devices such as tv, tape, radios and cameras and he also created films later in his career. One of the most known films is called “Chelsea Girls”. When he first showed one of his movies most of the people wanted their money back because they were really disappointed by the “boring” scenes. Warhol liked to do scenes with a person in front of the camera doing the same thing (for example sleep or eat) for hours. Some movies take 6 or 8 hours. So the movies were kinda like paintings because they wouldn’t change for hours. Something typically about Warhol’s movies was that the stars were not really acting at all. He told them to be themselves and he filmed scenes from everyday life, for example a woman getting her make up done. Andy’s number 1 superstar was certainly Edie Sedgwick. Andy was fascinated by her beauty. While admiring the beauty of other people Warhol didn’t like his own way of looking. He had lots of problems with skin and one day (at the age of 23) he decided to buy a gray/silver wig so everyone would be impressed if he said how young he would actually be. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to the topic of Beauty in Warhol’s book “The Philosophy”.
“Day after day I look in the mirror and still see something – a new pimple. If someone asked me, “What’s your biggest problem?” I’d have to say, “Skin!”
“I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty. Every person has beauty at some point in their lifetime.”
“Beauties know that most people will wait for them, so they’re not panicked when they’re late, so they get even later.”
“I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective-images do.”
All 4 quotes from: “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” (chapter: Beauty)
People even reacted critically during his first public exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York. The whole exhibition space was filled with Brillo and Campbell’s soup boxes and the visitors thought it was ridiculous. It took a long time to find a gallery owner that would show Warhols art. Roy Liechtenstein, another famous pop artist seemed to have been “faster” and some New York galleries showed his work but didn’t wanna show 2 similar artist, so they refused Warhol. In 1962 Warhol finally got his first own show in Los Angeles at the Irving Blum Gallery and in fall of the same year he finally had the chance to show his artwork in New York City (at the Stable Gallery).
As Warhol didn’t succeed as a fine artists he wanted to do something totally new. He became part of the “Pop Art” movement because that was an idea he could absolutely identify with. Andy once said “Pop Art is for all” and that’s so true. He simply took some objects of everyday life. A Campbell’s soup can, Brillo boxes and Heinz ketchup tomato are things every American knows from the supermarket. And that’s just wonderful, the artist thought. Pop Art was indeed the first art style made for the masses instead of only for the upper class.
In 1964, Warhol opened his own art studio, a large silver-painted warehouse known simply as “The Factory.” He wanted it to be silver because that was his favorite color. The Factory quickly became one of New York City’s premier cultural hotspots, a scene of lavish parties attended by the city’s wealthiest socialites and celebrities, including David Bowie, Lou Reed, Jackie Curtis, The Velvet Underground, Madonna, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalí. Warhol was shooting all of his movies and taking most of his (polaroid) photos there.
In 1968 Warhol’s career almost ended. He was shot by a radical feminist called Valerie Solans and almost died. Solanis had appeared in one of Warhol’s films and was reportedly upset with him over his refusal to use a script she had written. After the shooting, Solanis was arrested and later pleaded guilty to the crime. Warhol spent weeks in a New York hospital recovering from his injuries. The shooting changed Warhol a lot. He didn’t stay out late and tried not to go around alone because he was too afraid that another person would want to kill him.
In 1969 Andy Warhol together with a journalist launched a lifestyle magazine called “Interview” – it’s doing good business until the present. The paper is dedicated to Warhol’s biggest passion: celebrity life.
Warhol’s life and work simultaneously satirized and celebrated materiality and celebrity. On one hand his paintings of distorted brand images and celebrity faces could be read as a critique of what he viewed as a culture obsessed with money and celebrity. On the other hand, Warhol’s focus on consumer goods and pop-culture icons, as well as his own taste for money and fame, suggest a life in celebration of the very aspects of American culture that his work criticized. Warhol always said that making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art.
Nowadays we are confronted with Warhol almost everywhere and I’m pretty sure if Warhol would live today he would be obsessed with social media. He has already discovered the importance and effects of the media world back in the Sixties.
If you’d like to know more about the amazing person and work of Andy Warhol I suggest reading the following books: “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol; From A to B and back again”, “Popism”, “I’ll be your mirror – The selected Warhol interviews” and there’s several good articles on the internet.
You can clearly also ask me anything about the artist, his work and life by leaving a comment. Hope you liked this article and stay tuned for the next “Artist of the month” (coming in June)!
Warhol with his installation “Silver clouds” (silver helium filled pillows).