Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987)
Painting a soup can is not in itself a radical act, but what was radical in Warhol was that he adapted the means of production of soup cans to the way he produced paintings, turning them out en masse – consumer art mimicking the the process as well as the look of consumer culture… To look at an image like Campbell’s Soup Can, 1965, is not to see it through Warhol’s eyes—he has eliminated all idiosyncrasies. There is no contagion of personality. What remains is the flat, mute face of an actuality presented as meaning nothing beyond itself.
What Hughes failed to mention is that Warhol’s work, particularly silk-screen prints he made of political and Hollywood celebrities, including Mao, Liza Minelli, Jimmy Carter and Jacqueline Kennedy, were not only aesthetically pleasing in terms of their composition, color, and artistic sensitivity, but also were a new interpretation of portraiture — they amounted to a radically new conceptual paradigm. Warhol genuinely believed in the endless reproducibility of art.
It is not clear where or when Andy Warhol was born. It has been suggested that he might have been born around 1929, somewhere in Pennsylvania. The son of a coal miner, his family immigrated to the US from Czechoslovakia. Andy graduated with a degree in pictorial design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), in 1949. Immediately after graduation he relocated to New York and changed his name to Warhol. Andy Warhol became a successful commercial artist and graphic designer for Tiffany’s, Bonwit Teller’s, Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times and other magazines and department stores. In 1960 he started a series of illustrations based on comic strips, such as Superman and Dick Tracy, and on Coca-Cola bottles.
Andy Warhol tried to exhibit with Leo Castelli, an art dealer who was best known for representing the artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg. Castelli declined to exhibit his work, since his gallery artist Roy Lichtenstein, was already painting from comic strips. However, Warhol’s first exhibition of the Campbell’s soup cans at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962, followed by his next exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York finally convinced Castelli to represent him in 1964, and he remained his art dealer until his death.
In Warhol’s Pop Art, consumer culture came face-to-face with itself reflectively , and that encounter was at once boastful and apprehensive — apprehensive because the very fact of reflectiveness challenges self-absorbed consumption even as its temptation is acquiesced halfheartedly or placated fully. His art is not quaint or whimsical, because as David Dalton of the New York Times writes:
You can have him with or without irony, and it all still works. And because he was a master of the double-take, everything about him remains ambivalent. Once you choose one aspect of Warhol over another, you miss the point. Like Jean Cocteau’s definition of himself, Warhol is “the lie that tells the truth.” His paintings have the paradoxical quality of being both sexy and icily mechanical, and this ambivalence is at the core of his art. Even the affectionate nickname he was given at the Factory — Drella — is double-edged, a fusion of two disturbingly irreconcilable images: the waif-like Cinderella and the sinister, manipulative Dracula
Over the six years period, between 1962 to 1968 when he was shot, Warhol created some of his most powerful images that were inspired by a profound reflection on the state of the consumer society, in which mass media have appropriated the role of man’s brain, and dictated his choice through bombarding him with banal and senseless images that would sear in his mind his required course of actions through an endless repetition of commercial messages. Warhol created the banal art for the banal man. You no longer need to be a thinking and reflective entity. You are only expected to be a conformist robot, you should buy the over-the-counter drugs that would relieve your headaches and your heart burns, purchase a host of hygienic products that would make your hairs shine, and your skin look young and so on. Warhol’s work meditated over a prevalent American mindset that extolled fame and celebrity status. He created the modern icons of this culture, using silk screen of not only stars such as Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe,and Marlon Brando, but also those rich and famous people who commissioned him to silk screen their images in the new style– people like the Shah of Iran, his wife Farah Diba, his sister Ashraf Pahlavi, and Conrad Black a Canadian millionaire, and he obliged. Like any good businessman, he opted to maximize profit so when it didn’t matter, he did not bother to clean up the imperfections of his silk screen prints; caused by slips of the screen, uneven inkings of the roller, and other defects. Andy Warhol was imitating a mass production process without any quality control. But he made sure that the image of the Shah would look exactly like one of his commemorating stamps, and the image of Ashraf would prominently display her diamonds.; Nevertheless, the imperfections, together with his enchantment with the American celebrity culture became the hallmarks of Warhol’s work.