Andy Warhol, born as Andrew Warhola, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a working class immigrant family of Ruthenian ethnicity from northeast Slovakia. He showed early artistic talent and studied commercial art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 1949 he moved to New York City and began a successful career in magazine illustration and advertising. He became well-known mainly for his whimsical ink drawings of shoes done in a loose, blotted style.
In the 1960s, he started to make paintings of famous American products like Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola. He switched to silkscreen prints, seeking not only to make art of mass produced items, but to mass produce the art itself. He said that he wanted to be like a robot. He hired and supervised “art workers” engaged in making prints, shoes, films, books and other items at his studio, The Factory, located on Union Square in New York City. Warhol’s body of work furthermore includes commissioned portraits and commercials.
A lot of Warhol’s works revolve around the concept of Americana and American culture. He painted money, dollar signs, food, groceries, women’s shoes, celebrities, and newspaper clippings. To him, these subjects represented American cultural values. For instance, Coca-Cola represents democratic equality because “a Coke is always a Coke; the Coke that the president drinks is the same as your Coke or mine”. He used popular imagery and methods to visualize the American cultural identity of the 20th century. This popular redefinition of American culture is a theme and result of Warhol’s art. Because American culture has had great international influence, Warhol did as well.
Outside of the art world, Andy Warhol is best known for saying that “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” He later told reporters, humorously, “My new line is, ‘In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.'”
Socialite and Recluse
Warhol used to socialize at Serendipity and Studio 54, nightclubs in New York City. Warhol was generally regarded as quiet, shy, and as a meticulous observer. More than one person jokingly referred to him as “death warmed over.”
Warhol was openly gay, rare for celebrities of his stature at the time. Many people think of Warhol as “asexual” and as merely a “voyeur”, but these notions have been debunked by biographers (like Fred Guiles), scholars (eg Richard Meyer), and by the overtly campy and homoerotic nature of his work itself. Throughout his career, Warhol produced erotic photography and drawings of male nudes. Many of his most famous works (portraits of Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, and films like “My Hustler”, “Blow Job”, and “Lonesome Cowboys”) draw from gay underground culture and/or openly explore the complexity of sexuality and desire. Many of his films in fact premiered in gay porn theaters. The first works that he submitted to a gallery in the pursuit of a career as an artist were, in fact, homoerotic drawings of male nudes. They were rejected for being too openly gay.
A meticulous collector, he organized almost every piece of paper, fan mail?after taking off the stamps?and magazine related to his fame along with personal notes, gay pornography and found artifacts into hundreds of numbered boxes and set them aside, never to open them again. Warhol referred to these boxes as his “time capsule”. Many exist today and are available for research at his Pittsburgh museum. Warhol’s house, was filled to the brim with his collected art, artifacts and americana.
Warhol loved to attend social functions. Many of his later commisioned portraits were a direct or indirect result of this networking. As a famous artist, Warhol and his Factory attracted and facilitated many “groupies” and friends that Warhol would take with him when going out. Warhol fell into the habit of calling these friends his Superstars. They would appear in and help him make his work, play in his movies, write his books, hang out and generally become his following. When Warhol was asked to give a series of university lectures that he didn’t feel like doing, one of his friends put on a wig and white make-up, and pretended to be him by sitting quietly on the stage. Other Superstars explained Warhol’s work to the audience, and urged them to drop out of college. The University eventually found out Warhol’s “fraud” and the following dispute had to be settled with a refund.
Warhol would regularly volunteer at the homeless shelters in New York, particularly during the busier times of the year. He described himself as a religious person, although not fully accepted by religion because of his homosexuality. Many of his latter works contain almost hidden religious themes or subjects.
On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas, a Factory regular, entered Warhol’s studio and fired three shots at Warhol, nearly killing him. Although the first two rounds missed, the third passed through Warhol’s left lung, spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus and right lung. Solanas then turned the gun on a companion of Warhol, Mario Amaya, injuring his thigh. Warhol survived his injuries, but he never fully recovered. Earlier Solanas had given a script to Warhol, in hopes that he would make a film out of it. Warhol never did. Apparently, she had visited the Factory earlier in the day to ask that they give the script back to her. It had, however, been lost. She later explained that she had attacked Warhol because, “he had too much control over [her] life.” The story of Valerie Solanas was made into the 1995 film I Shot Andy Warhol, starring Lili Taylor and directed by Mary Harron.
In the hospital, his doctors had already declared him deceased, after which he was rescucitated. Warhol later joked that he was now invulnerable, since he had gone through death and came out alive. The shooting, and Warhol’s “death” received wide media coverage.
Warhol later satirized the whole event in a subsequent movie, calling a group similar to Solanas’ S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men), P.I.G. ? Politically Involved Girlies.
In 1990 Lou Reed recorded the album Songs for Drella with fellow Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale. Warhol had adopted Reed’s band the Velvet Undergound as one of his projects in the 1960’s, “producing” their debut album The Velvet Underground and Nico as well as providing the album art, widely regarded as some of the greatest album art of all time. The album itself is also regarded as one of the greatest (and most influential) albums in rock history. After the band became successful Warhol and band leader Reed started to disagree more and more about the direction the band should take, and the contact between them faded. On the album, Reed apologizes and comes to terms with his part in their conflict.
Warhol died in New York City following routine gall bladder surgery at the age of 58. Warhol was afraid of hospitals and doctors, so he had delayed having his recurring gall bladder problems checked.
He is interred at St. John the Baptist Catholic Cemetery south of Pittsburgh. Fellow artist Yoko Ono was among the speakers at his funeral.
After his death it took Sotheby’s several days to auction his estate, for a total gross amount of over 20 million dollars.