“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”
Even if Andy Warhol implies in his own words above to see him and his art at face value, much about him prompts people to probe deeper into his life and find possible meanings in his work. This installment of American Masters is a tribute to the influential American artist whose life and works continue to fascinate creative minds to this day.
Born Andrej Varhola (Americanized into Andrew Warhola) on August 6, 1928, he was the youngest of the four children of Ondrej and Julia Warhola, immigrants from Czechoslovakia who settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The couple’s first child died before they moved to the United States. He had two older brothers: Paul, born in 1923; and John, born in 1925.
In his youth, Warhol suffered from Sydenham’s chorea, a nervous system ailment that causes quick, jerky, involuntary movements of the extremities, believed to have stemmed from scarlet fever. He eventually became fearful of hospitals and doctors. While he was often bedridden, he would listen to the radio, draw, and put photos of Hollywood stars around his bed. Warhol later said that this period was monumental in the development of his personality, skills, and preferences.
In 1945, the teenage Warhol graduated from Schenley High School and planned to study art at the University of Pittsburgh, hoping to become an art teacher. However, he decided to enroll in the Carnegie Institute of Technology instead, with the intention of pursuing an art career as a commercial illustrator. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in 1949, moved to New York, and soon adopted the name Andy Warhol. He joined Glamour magazine in September of the same year and was on his way to becoming one of the most accomplished commercial artists of the 1950s.
Early in his art career, Warhol adapted and specialized in silk screen printing and used the technique to create his paintings. His first projects involved hand-drawn images, then advanced to silkscreening photographs. His innovative use of printmaking later on enabled him to establish his own signature style, wherein the final products are ridden with blots, smudges, and other unintentional blemishes that add to their character and appeal.
Warhol’s career climaxed in the 1960s, when he began creating paintings of iconic American objects and celebrities. The most prominent of his works from this era, such as those that feature Campbell’s Soup Cans, Coca-Cola bottles, dollar sign and bills, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor, remain popular and well-received to this day. It was also during this time that he became identified with Pop art, a vibrant and experimental movement that he shared with pioneers, notably Roy Lichtenstein.
As an impressive multi-media artist, Warhol also worked using other mediums such as photography, drawings, sculpture, and even filmmaking and digital art. As there is still much to learn about the fascinating works of the iconic artist, we will delve deeper into these artistic avenues explored by Warhol all week long here in the Magazine. So, stay tuned!