AY Lecture on Andy Warhol and Pop Art

Andrew Warhola, Jr. (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987), known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became famous worldwide for his work as a painter, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer, author, and member of highly diverse social circles that included Bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy patrons.
Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films. He coined the widely used expression “15 minutes of fame.” In his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Andy Warhol Museum exists in memory of his life and artwork.
The highest price ever paid for a Warhol painting is US$100 million for a 1963 canvas titled Eight Elvises. The private transaction was reported in a 2009 article in The Economist, which described Warhol as the “bellwether of the art market.” $100 million is a benchmark price that only Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-August Renoir, Gustav Klimt and Willem de Kooning have achieved.
By the beginning of the 1960s, Warhol had become a very successful commercial illustrator. His detailed and elegant drawings for I. Miller shoes were particularly popular. They consisted mainly of “blotted ink” drawings (or monoprints), a technique which he applied in much of his early art. Although many artists of this period worked in commercial art, most did so discreetly. Warhol was so successful, however, that his profile as an illustrator seemed to undermine his efforts to be taken seriously as an artist.
Pop art was an experimental form that several artists were independently adopting; some of these pioneers, such as Roy Lichtenstein, would later become synonymous with the movement. Warhol, who would become famous as the “Pope of Pop”, turned to this new style, where popular subjects could be part of the artist’s palette. His early paintings show images taken from cartoons and advertisements, hand-painted with paint drips. Those drips emulated the style of successful abstract expressionists (such as Willem de Kooning). Warhol’s first pop art paintings were displayed in April 1961, serving as the backdrop for New York Department Store Bronwit Teller’s window display. This was the same stage his Pop Art contemporaries Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg had also once graced. Eventually, Warhol pared his image vocabulary down to the icon itself – to brand names, celebrities, dollar signs – and removed all traces of the artist’s “hand” in the production of his paintings.
To him, part of defining a niche was defining his subject matter. Cartoons were already being used by Lichtenstein, typography by Jasper Johns, and so on; Warhol wanted a distinguishing subject. His friends suggested he should paint the things he loved the most. It was the gallerist Muriel Latow who came up with the ideas for both the soup cans and Warhol’s dollar paintings. On 23 November 1961 Warhol wrote Latow a check for $50 which, according to the 2009 Warhol biography, Pop, The Genius of Warhol, was payment for coming up with the idea of the soup cans as subject matter. For his first major exhibition Warhol painted his famous cans of Campbell’s Soup, which he claimed to have had for lunch for most of his life. The work sold for $10,000 at an auction on November 17, 1971, at Sotheby’s New York – a minimal amount for the artist whose paintings sell for over $6 million more recently.
He loved celebrities, so he painted them as well. From these beginnings he developed his later style and subjects. Instead of working on a signature subject matter, as he started out to do, he worked more and more on a signature style, slowly eliminating the hand-made from the artistic process. Warhol frequently used silk-screening; his later drawings were traced from slide projections. At the height of his fame as a painter, Warhol had several assistants who produced his silk-screen multiples, following his directions to make different versions and variations.
In 1979, Warhol was commissioned by BMW to paint a Group 4 race version of the then elite supercar BMW M1 for the fourth installment in the BMW Art Car Project. Unlike the three artists before him, Warhol declined the use of a small scale practice model, instead opting to immediately paint directly onto the full scale automobile. It was indicated that Warhol spent only a total of 23 minutes to paint the entire car.
The unifying element in Warhol’s work is his deadpan Keatonesque style – artistically and personally affectless. This was mirrored by Warhol’s own demeanor, as he often played “dumb” to the media, and refused to explain his work. The artist was famous for having said that all you need to know about him and his works is already there, “Just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”

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