The young Andrew Warhola of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, never would have guessed he would become the world famous Pop Artist of the 60s and 70s Andy Warhol.
After a childhood of honing his artistic talent, he studied fine arts at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Even in college he did things his own way. For one of his final projects, just to be different, he cut a painting into four parts and submitted it as four separate assignments. His originality cost him his enrollment that semester. After a summer of painting the customers at the family fruit stand, he showed the portraits to the faculty and was readmitted to Carnegie Tech.
After graduating, he moved from Pittsburgh to New York with his friend Philip Pearlstein. The move marked the starting point of an entirely new existence: Andrew Warhola died and from his ashes Andy Warhol rose. In New York, he worked as a successful freelance commercial artist for well-known magazines as Glamour, Vogue, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Bazaar. He also worked for retail stores such as Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman, and Bonwit Teller; and most notably, for the I. Miller shoe company. It was his work on the shoe ads that won him prestige and financial security.
His work began to obtain certain recognition. For most of his work in this period, he used the blotted-line technique. He accidentally discovered this technique as a student when, by chance, he applied some blotting paper onto one of his ink drawings: the resulting impression fascinated him because it looked like a reproduction.
In 1960, he wanted to change his profession from a commercial artist to a serious fine art painter. Among his first efforts were works depicting comic strips characters in oil. He discovered that another young painter, Roy Lichtenstein, was working on the same idea but with better results. Warhol quickly abandoned the comic idea.
After the Bonwit Teller department stores used five of Warhol’s paintings as backdrops for its window displays, his fine art painting career started. It was then that he debuted some of his most famous and recognizable themes: the Campbell’s Soup Cans, The Disasters, and portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
His career exploded in the early 60s and he gained credence in the art world after his famous Gold Marilyn Monroe was purchased for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This is when Warhol was named one of the leading artists in the new art movement known as “Pop Art,” short for popular art.
In 1964, he moved his studio to a loft in a warehouse on East 47th Street, the original Factory. Warhol became a leader of a factory of art-workers churning out works as from an assembly line. The Factory itself became a work of art as it was transformed with theatrical lighting, aluminum foil and silver paint. It was more than a studio. It became the trendiest place for the “in” crowd to gather in New York’s cultural universe.
The year 1966 marked the beginning of his close collaboration with the musical group The Velvet Underground as the two staged multimedia “happenings” in New York and California. Two years later, the radical feminist Valerie Solanas shot Warhol in an assassination attempt. Severely wounded, Warhol spent almost two months in the hospital.
After the ‘60s Warhol’s output skyrocketed in virtually every artistic field. Soon his fame began to eclipse that of his celebrity portrait subjects. His work in the 1970s and 1980s was more expressive and visually more complex, adding vitality to the coldness of the silkscreen medium.
His career experienced one final twist as he turned to more abstract works as his Oxidation Paintings, Shadows, Egg Paintings, and Threads. On February 22, 1987, following a routine gallbladder surgery, he died in a New York hospital at age 58. His death not only marked the end of a great artist but also the end of an era.