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Art History

Andy Warhol

In honor of Andy Warhol’s birthday earlier this month, I thought I would take the opportunity to share about him on this week’s blog.  Andy Warhol was a prolific artist, successful commercial illustrator, and pop icon.  It’s hard to talk about the pop art movement of the 1960’s without mentioning his name and impact.  

Photo of Andy Warhol with dog
Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell (photo care of Wikipedia)

Andrew Warhola was born on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  That’s not a typo – his name at birth was Warhola but he later dropped the “a” at the end.  His parents were Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from the area that is now Eastern Slovakia in the Carpathian Mountains.  He grew up in poverty, living in a two bedroom apartment with his parents and two older brothers in the neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

When Andy Warhol was eight he contracted Sydenham Chorea (St. Vitus’s Dance) which is a rare disease of the nervous system that left him bedridden for several months.  During this time, his mother gave him drawing lessons (she was an embroiderer by trade but also a skilled artist).  Drawing became one of his favorite pastimes, as well as watching films and taking photographs.  

In 1945, Andy Warhol enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology to study pictorial design.  Upon graduating, he moved to New York City to work as a commercial artist.  His first job was for Glamour magazine in 1949 where he illustrated an article entitled “What is Success?”  Warhol later went on to become one of the most successful commercial illustrators of the 1950s.  He had his own unique style in which he used a blotted line technique and rubber stamps to create whimsical drawings.  The technique combined drawing with basic printmaking and allowed him to create multiple illustrations using the same initial pattern (a theme he carried through his later career as a gallery artist).

In 1952 Andy Warhol had his first solo exhibition at the Hugo Gallery in NYC where he showed 15 drawings on the writings of Truman Capote. 

Jacqueline Kennedy by Andy Warhol photo

A transition can be seen in his methods from hand-painted to silk screen works.  A pivotal artwork sited in this transition is his 1961 Coca-Cola [2] which is a black and grey piece first sketched and then hand-painted in a combination of pop art and abstract styles. 

Andy Warhol is most known for his photographic silkscreen printing which replicated the appearance of commercial advertising.  With this method, he was able to duplicate his source images and experiment with techniques such as different color combinations, over-printing (printing one color on top of another), and registration (aligning colors on a single image).  


Andy Warhol was highly influenced by the post-war consumer culture.  His most famous works of art glorified (while also criticizing) contemporary consumption habits associated with money and fame.  His famous pop paintings depicted everyday objects such as soup cans, Coca-cola bottles, vacuum cleaners, hamburgers, and even celebrities.  His Death and Disaster series which began in 1963 used images from magazines, newspapers, and police and press photos of suicides, car crashes, and accidents as source material.  He experimented with the idea of images that the American public repeated saw on a daily basis and brought them new life.  He once said, “Once you ‘got’ pop, you could never see a sign the same way again.  And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again.”

Andy Warhol was a multifaceted creative and explore several different forms of media.  He created in sculpture and photography.  He wrote books such as The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: from A to B and Back Again and Exposures.  He also experimented extensively video art, producing more than 60 films during his career.  He was the music producer for Velvet Underground’s first album.  And in the 1980’s, he hosted televisions shows “Andy Warhol’s TV” and “Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes on MTV”.  (The phrase 15 minutes of fame was coined by Andy Warhol after his quote, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”)

Mona Lisa by Andy Warhol photo

On June 2, 1968, Andy Warhol was seriously wounded when he was shot by Valerie Solanas, an aspiring writer who had appeared in one of his films.  He endured weeks in the hospital and multiple surgeries from the incident and had to wear a surgical corset the remainder of his life. 

Andy Warhol died February 22, 1987 from a cardiac arrest resulting from complications of a gallbladder surgery days prior.  Thousands of people attended his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.  

Photo of downtown Corning outside Rockwell Museum, Andy Warhol Art Factory exhibit poster

Andy Warhol was incredibly prolific artist.  He famously quipped, “I want to be a machine,” alluding to his interest in mass production.  With the help of art assistants and professional printers, he produced thousands of silkscreen paintings and print portfolios throughout his lifetime.

Did you know that you can see Andy Warhol’s work up close and personal right now locally?  

The Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York currently is showing the exhibit “Andy Warhol’s Art Factory” through September 22nd.  It features the Marilyn Monroe Suite, Black Bean Soup, and a selection of work from private collectors.  

Resources & Further Learning

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