Andy Warhol was a successful magazine and ad illustrator who became a leading artist of the 1960s “Pop Art” movements. He ventured into a wide variety of art forms, including performance art, film making, video installations and writing, and controversially blurred the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics.
Andrew Warhola was born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood to Slovakian immigrants. At the age of 8, Warhol contracted Chorea, also known as St. Vitus’s Dance, a rare and sometimes fatal disease of the nervous system that left him bedridden for several months. It was during these months that his mother, herself a skillful artist, gave him his first drawing lessons. Drawing soon became Warhol’s favorite childhood pastime. He was also an avid fan of the movies. When his mother bought him a camera at the age of 9, he decided to take up photography as well, developing film in a makeshift darkroom he set up in their basement.
In 1942, at the age of 14, Warhol again suffered a tragedy when his father passed away. Warhol was so upset that he could not attend his father’s funeral, and hid under his bed throughout the wake. Warhol’s father had recognized his son’s artistic talents, and in his will he dictated that his life savings go toward Warhol’s college education. That same year, Warhol began at Schenley High School. After graduation in 1945, he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to study pictorial design, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1949.
After graduation, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist. It was also at this time that he dropped the “a” at the end of his last name to become Andy Warhol. He landed a job with Glamour magazine in September, and went on to become one of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950s. He won frequent awards for his uniquely whimsical style, using his own blotted line technique and rubber stamps to create his drawings.
In the late 1950s, Warhol began devoting more attention to painting, and in 1961, he debuted the concept of “pop art” (paintings that focused on mass-produced commercial goods). In 1962, he exhibited the now-iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans. These small canvas works of everyday consumer products created a major stir in the art world, bringing both Warhol and pop art into the national spotlight for the first time. As these portraits gained fame and notoriety, Warhol began to receive hundreds of commissions for portraits from socialites and celebrities. His portrait ” Eight Elvises” eventually resold for $100 million in 2008, making it one of the most valuable paintings in world history.
In 1968, however, Warhol’s thriving career almost ended. He was shot by Valerie Solanas, an aspiring writer and radical feminist, on June 3. Warhol was seriously wounded in this attack. Solanas 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, Solanas was arrested and later pleaded guilty to the crime. Warhol spent weeks in a New York hospital recovering from his injuries.
In the 1970s, Warhol continued to explore other forms of media. He published such books as The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), and Exposures. Warhol also experimented extensively with video art, producing more than 60 films during his career. Warhol also worked in sculpture and photography, and in the 1980s, he moved into television, hosting Andy Warhol’s TV and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes on MTV.
Warhol’s life and work simultaneously satirized and celebrated materiality and celebrity. On the 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.
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