Biography: Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Andy Warhol’s omnipresence in the twentieth-century Pop era made him a true icon of American art. His powerful combination of popular imagery with profound commentary on culture has afforded Warhol an enduring presence in art’s conversation.
Born to Slovakian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol (born Warhola) experienced a youth tinged with hardship - he grew up during the global economic catastrophe of the Great Depression – and poor health, as he was diagnosed as a young boy with a spastic condition that resulted in many missed days of school. Those days at home, though, were often filled with drawing with his mother. That self-study eventually blossomed into community art classes and, subsequently, enrollment at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University).
Following graduation in 1949, Warhol moved to New York City and found work in advertising art and commercial illustration, and it perhaps because of this initial track that Warhol (who dropped the “a” from his name after having arrived in the “Big Apple”) became increasingly fascinated by production processes and the messaging systems of the promotional image. He translated this fascination into work created over the 1950s and early 1960s that borrowed an array of pop culture imagery, from comic panels to corporate logos, like his appropriation of the Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup brands, to explore the bounds between fine and graphic art. It was also during this phase of his career that he first experimented with silk-screening, a method often reserved for industrial-scale printing yet transformed in Warhol’s studio into an investigation of mechanized reproduction as a new mode of art.
This incredible momentum built up over the early years of the 1960s came to an abrupt halt later in the decade: in addition to losing the lease on his iconic workshop, “The Factory,” which had become a hub of celebrity and bohemian culture, Warhol was shot by a former fan-turned-fanatical-feminist. Narrowly avoiding death, Warhol emerged in the 1970s with a new perspective, tempering some of the flamboyance of his earlier work with a deep thread of sobriety. References to death, such as his Skullseries, but also to religion and politics became increasingly prominent in his work, and it was perhaps this element of self-reflection that made his work during this period all the more captivating.
He had fully returned to the spotlight of popular culture by the 1980s. In addition to establishing Interview magazine, Warhol appeared on television shows like Saturday Night Live and even producing his show, Fifteen Minutes (1985-1987) for the MTV network. He also embarked on an enduring artistic collaboration with rising stars Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. As his health began to decline in the mid-1980s – spurred in part by lingering injuries from his 1968 shooting – Warhol embarked on an impressive array of images that ranged from introspective self-portraits to quotations borrowed from past masters like Leonardo da Vinci. These works, which also explored new media in their creation, hinted at a potential new phase in Warhol’s career, but it would be unrealized. Following complications from surgery, Warhol died in 1987. The incredible body of work left behind, however, tells the story of one of the most vibrant and innovative artists of all time.