A Brief History of the Charismatic & Creative Andy Warhol
The artist Andy Warhol was certainly a flamboyant character, well-known for his eccentricities and not just his original take on art. The eccentric items he amassed over time as a collector included an extensive collection of wigs made from hair imported from Italy, and his prized piece, a mummified human foot from ancient Egypt, which he kept in his studio to help him gain inspiration. No one quite knows how he came about owning his precious mummified foot, but the curator of Carnegie Anthropology Museum felt he most likely picked it up at a flea market. So great was Andy Warhol’s interest in curiosities and obscurities that his collection not only filled his 4-storey apartment, but also a nearby storage unit!
Born Andrew Warhol, he was the son of working class immigrants from Slovakia. His father was a coal miner and his mother a homemaker. A sickly child, Andy was in and out of hospital for most of his childhood due to complications sustained from Sydenham’s Chorea; a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities. He became an outcast at school and a hypochondriac, developing a deep fear of hospitals and doctors that was to last his entire lifetime. This fear, as it later turned out, was not unfounded, as he eventually died from complications due to medical treatment.
They say every cloud has a silver lining, and this was evidenced by the long periods of time Andy was bed-ridden throughout his childhood. Far from taking away from his creative talent, this actually enabled him to foster an accelerated artistic development. While he was confined to his bed he drew, listened to the radio, and painted. He later described this period as very important in the development of his personality, skill set and preferences.
Andy graduated from high school in 1945 and won a scholastic Art and Writing Award and entered the workforce in the field of advertising. For 10 years he specialised in advertising art, and during that time he discovered the silk screen printmaking process and adopted it into his growing skill set. He was something of a pioneer of the use of silk screen printmaking for the purpose of ‘art’ rather than for commercial uses such as posters and point-of-sale applications.
It was also around this time that Andy began exhibiting his work. By 1960 the excitement of the Pop Art Movement began to sweep the world. Warhol was at the forefront of this movement, and, it was in this era that his iconic Marilyn, Campbell’s Soup and the $100 Dollar Bills works were created. But not everyone shared a love for the new art movement or for Andy Warhol. He was attacked for capitulating to consumerism and calling advertising art ‘fine art’. Critics were scandalised by his open embrace of market culture and didn’t appreciate the irony of Warhol’s work. But Andy had thick skin and being bullied was nothing new to him. He continued with his artwork, music, filmmaking and writing.
To many people it seemed as though Andy Warhol was now living a charmed life. He was incredibly creatively fertile, his work was selling well, there was great interest in his books and music and he had many celebrity friends that he collaborated with. Unfortunately this all came to a halt on the 3rd of June 1968. On this date he was shot by the radical feminist writer Valerie Solana. The shooting allegedly took place because Warhol had misplaced a script that Solanas had written and she assumed Warhol had stolen it. Warhol was seriously injured from the shooting and barely survived. He suffered physical effects for the rest of his life and it had a profound effect on his outlook on life.
The 1970s were a much quieter decade for Warhol in comparison to the success and scandals of the 1960s. He devoted much of his time to commissioned portraits from high paying patrons such as Jimmy Carter, the Shah of Iran, Communist leader Mao Zedong, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, and Brigitte Bardot – to name a few.
In 1979 Andy founded the New York Academy of Art and started affiliating with a number of prolific younger artists, which catapulted him back into the art scene where he enjoyed a re-emergence of critical and financial success. He collaborated with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Salle and other Neo-Expressionists, and started to take a real interest in the new underground graffiti scene. Graffiti artist Fab Five Freddy even paid homage to Warhol by painting an entire train with Campbell’s Soup Cans!
By the mid-1980s Warhol was once again being criticised for becoming merely a ‘business artist’ and critics called his portraits superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of any significance of the subjects. Whether Andy Warhol took this criticism to heart is debatable, as the mockery of the art world had always been an agenda of his. It is interesting that in hindsight critics have since come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as the ‘most brilliant mirror of our times’.
Warhol died in Manhattan on the 22nd February, 1987. According to news reports, he had been making a good recovery from gall bladder surgery before dying in his sleep from a sudden post-operative cardiac arrest. Re-evaluation of his medical case 30 years later found that doctors had not taken into consideration factors such patient age, family medical history of gallbladder problems, previous gunshot wounds, and medical state in the weeks leading up to the procedure. These factors made the potential risk of death following surgery significant.
Any writing on Andy Warhol could easily develop into a book as he was so artistically prolific. For those interested in discovering more, take a closer look at his artworks from the 1960s-1970s, when he developed some of his most iconic works.
Wikipedia (2017) Andy Warhol, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, accessed 5th May 2017.
Warhola Family (2015) Biography: Andy Warhol 1928-1987, The Warhola Family Website – Celebrating the Early Life of Andy Warhol, http://www.warhola.com/biography.html , accessed 5th May 2017.
Main Image: Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn), 1967 Screenprints on Lenox Museum Board (F&S.II.22-31).
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