Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. His parents were Slovakian emigrés and devout Catholics who sustained much of their Slovakian culture living in Pittsburgh. At the age of eight he contracted a rare illness which left him bedridden for several months. Whilst sick, his mother, a skilful artist in her own right, gave him his first drawing lessons.
When, in 1942, his father died suddenly, Warhol was so upset he couldn’t attend the funeral. Recognizing his boy’s talents, however, his father directed that his life savings go towards Warhol’s education. The same year he began at Schenley High School where he was taught art by the legendary Joseph Fitzpatrick. In 1945 he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute for Technology to study design. Graduating with his BFA in 1949, Warhol moved to New York to pursue a career as a commercial artist.
Landing a job with Glamour magazine, he quickly became one of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950s, winning frequent awards for his uniquely whimsical style and idiosyncratic blotted line print technique. At about his time he dropped the last letter of his surname and became Andy Warhol. Obsessed with celebrity and consumer culture as well as the processes of mechanical reproduction, Warhol created some of the most iconic images of the twentieth century. His work explores the relationship between art, advertising, iconography and celebrity and spans a variety of media, including painting, silk screen, photography, film and sculpture.
In in 1962, as part of the New Realists exhibition at the Sidney Jarris Gallery in New York – a show which included work by Roy Lichtenstein – Warhol first exhibited his now-iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, alongside other ‘Pop’ paintings and sculpture. These small, mostly silk-screened works depicting mass-produced consumer items like Coca-Cola bottles and Brillo pads created a major stir in the art world and brought both Warhol and ‘Pop’ firmly into the spotlight.
Experimenting further with reproducing mass-produced images from popular culture, Warhol began a series of celebrity portraits. Starting with Marilyn Monroe he captured Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor – among others. These equally iconic pieces used silk-screen printing to achieve their characteristic hard edges and flat areas of colour.
In 1964, Warhol acquired a large, disused warehouse which he painted silver and The Factory. By day a studio, by night a scene of lavish parties attended The Factory was an infamous gathering place for intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, bohemians and celebrities, among them Lou Reed, whose experimental rock band – The Velvet Underground – Warhol would later produce. Warhol, a mentor to many younger artists –Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat among them – became a fixture of New York society. Commenting on fixation with celebrity – both his own and the public’s – he observed, ‘more than anything people just want stars.’
Warhol’s life and work simultaneously satirize and celebrate materialism and celebrity. On the one hand his distortions of brand images and well-known faces critique a culture obsessed with money and fame. On the other hand, Warhol’s own taste for hedonism and notoriety, suggest a life which celebrated the very aspects of popular culture his work critiqued. As famous for his quips as for his art, he famously mused that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’.
Having survived attempted assassination by Valerie Solanas, one of his former collaborators, in 1968, Warhol suffered chronic issues with his gall bladder in later life. On February 20th 1987 he was admitted to New York Hospital for a routine gall bladder removal. Two days later he suffered complications which resulted in sudden cardiac arrest, dying on February 22nd 1987 aged fifty-eight. Thousands of people attended his memorial at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.