Andy Warhol was one of the leading exponents of the pop-art movement in the United States. His works of 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych were some of the very first instances of the rise of the pop-art scene in the US, which were commercialised and marked a shift in how art was perceived on a global scale. In the most basic sense, pop-art could be defined as a sub-genre of creation that came about with the influence of the popular culture – of representations of commercial products or of celebrity life. Warhol, although not the first, was a pioneering figure in bringing pop-art into vogue in the United States.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928, Warhol was inclined towards art from a very young age. He graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University), with a degree in Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in pictorial design, in 1949, following which, he moved to New York City to pursue his career in magazine illustration and advertising. Much of his early career was devoted to commercial and advertising art and design, a factor that undoubtedly influenced his approach to expression later in his life.
Of course, one of the more noteworthy aspects of his artworks was his use of the silkscreen printmaking process, an approach that was used on many of his initial works. His Campbell’s Soup Cans, released in 1962, featured thirty-two similar looking paintings of soup cans, all of which used the screen-printing process and depicted imagery from the popular culture. Warhol was of the opinion that abstract expressionism took away much of the splendour of modernity. However, the monotony and absence of any sense of emotion in this works was criticised as using any object, no matter how mundane or banal they may be, and projecting them as the subject of the creation and calling it art.
Warhol’s works focused more on the similarity of the subject rather than giving it a 3D structure which might have invited various perspectives. His later works, in which he made use of shocking colours, was a drastic conversion from his earlier pieces. Some of his most popular paintings in the 1960s included his depictions of commercialised American products, such as Coca-Cola bottles and dollar bills, electric chairs and mushroom clouds. He also created paintings of celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and so on. It was during this time that he opened his own studio in midtown Manhattan, called The Factory, which became a gathering point for many artists, writers, musicians and underground celebrities as Warhol began curating culture as we know it today.
The 1960s was also the time when Andy Warhol met the punk band The Velvet Underground for the first time. Warhol offered to sign them up under his stewardship, and the band readily agreed. It was during this period that the band produced the album The Velvet Underground & Nico, released in 1967, and changed the face of music. The band were featured on Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour, and the cover art for the album was done by Warhol, presenting a print of a banana. He was also a producer on the album, although that went only as far as Warhol paying for the studio time for the band.
While his rise to face was fast, chaotic and vastly prolific, with all the attention came major issues. In 1968, Warhol became a victim of attempted murder at the hands of one Valerie Solanas who, after being caught, claimed the reason for attempting murder being that Warhol “had too much control over my life”. Solanas had approached Warhol with a script of a play she wrote but had been turned away from The Factory. Solanas had shot him, which resulted in Warhol being severely wounded and having to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. But a close call with death and a strenuous recovery process hardly did anything to dim Warhol’s spirits. In the 1970s, he went back to exploring other forms of media. He worked produced over 60 films in his career, some of them being Sleep, which depicted poet John Giorno for six hours or Eat, which showed a man eating a mushroom for 45 minutes, invoking an expressionist approach to popular media. He also published books such as Exposures and Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). Apart from this, he also tried his hand at sculpture and architecture – a real versatile artist who ventured into all forms of art.
Throughout his life, Warhol transcended the realms of art as well as that of the mainstream identity. He was a homosexual man at a time when being gay was considered illegal in the United States. Many of his works hinted at vivid imagery, although he claimed to be a virgin throughout his life. The intricate balance of the existence and materialism that he incorporated in his art, while also feeding to the commercial field, made it some of the most unique and original compositions of all time.
Andy Warhol was a wildly prolific personality, and his exemplary contributions to contemporary art and media were a force to be reckoned with.