Andy Warhol

"Paintings are too hard. The things I want to show are mechanical. Machines have less problems. I'd like to be a machine, wouldn't you?"

- Andy Warhol, 1963

Andy Warhol grew up in a working class district in Pittsburgh. He was a prolific artist working in many media, and his work influenced the ways art has been made and perceived ever since his rows of Campbell's Soup paintings were first exhibited in 1962.

Warhol graduated in 1949 with a Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Tech in Pittsbugh, where he trained as an art designer. The skills and strategies he learned there would later provide him with an innovative approach to art. He moved to New York and achieved immediate success as an advertising illustrator and commercial artist for magazines and newspapers.

Warhol was fascinated by Hollywood, fashion and style. He transferred this interest to his artwork, claiming not to see the difference between a museum and a department store. Blurring the distinction between art and life, he believed art could be fashion, decoration, politics. Like his contemporaries Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, he borrowed images from popular culture for his artwork. He was also influenced by Marcel Duchamp, who took ordinary objects and displayed them as "readymade" works of art.

Warhol's early paintings of the 1960s are among the first examples of American Pop art. The detached ambivalence of his work and its banal content shocked and offended the sensibilities of an elite art audience. He challenged traditional notions of art by mechanically repeating a single image, mimicking the manufacturing industry and parodying mass consumption. Similarly, in works such as Brillo (1964), Warhol replicated supermarket cartons by transferring their designs onto plywood box shapes. After 1962, his paintings were made exclusively as screen-printed photographic images executed by assistants in his studio, called the Factory. Images of American icons such as Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were repeated in systematic rows, a technique also used in a series of serigraphs, silk-screened prints, entitled Mao Tse-tung (1972). Images from news media, the electric chair, the explosion of the atomic bomb, suicides, race riots and car crashes printed in various colours and qualities of reproduction formed, in large part, the content of his work. Warhol also made films that continue to influence experimental filmmakers today. He also was producer of the underground rock band the Velvet Underground (1967) and created Interview magazine (1969).

The work of Andy Warhol has been read as a critical assault on the pretensions and traditional concepts of high culture. Warhol, however, was deliberately unclear as to the meaning of his work and always gave the appearance of indifference and ambivalence. With in a wry, deadpan delivery, he denied any link to socio-political commentary. Warhol's images have become the icons of a particular age in American cultural history typified by the advent of mass marketing, television, news media and the celebrity commodity. In his world, he declared, everyone could be famous for 15 minutes. In 1989 the Andy Warhol Museum was established posthumously in Pittsburgh, and it houses the largest collection of his work.

Photography: © HENRI DAUMAN / Dauman Pictures, NYC

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