American Artist Andy Warhol changed the world of Contemporary Art and American culture immeasurably. “15 minutes of fame” − a term that has become common speak for describing celebrity shelf life is one famous example. The saying derives from Andy Warhol’s declaration made in 1968, when he simply stated, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” The statement carried weight because Andy had gained worldwide fame during the same decade. The shy artist from Pittsburgh had transcended from his success as a New York commercial artist to a Pop Art icon, in a short span of time.
In 1962, Andy Warhol rose to fame largely due to the popularity of his Campbell’s Soup Cans painting. His paintings of Coca Cola bottles, various consumer goods and celebrities would earn him notoriety as well and set the tone for the American Pop Art movement. Andy’s art struck a chord with the public − in a big way. His fascination of all things mundane and grand said much about the American experience. Warhol’s art was immediately easy to understand and accessible. It was art for the masses.
Andy’s style of repeating images seemed to capture the escalating bombardment of commercial messaging within the American landscape. Packaged goods and super-sized celebrities were suddenly omnipresent. Billboards, print ads an electric media were at a fever pitch compared to just a handful of years previous.
The Andy Warhol Persona
Aside from his artistic talents, Andy Warhol had something else going for him. As an odd sort of character – shy, yet manipulative, Andy himself was a piece of work. Drawing on his own feelings of being different and an outcast allowed Warhol to be an objective onlooker. He could paint with a removed coolness and flatness, because that affect is part of who Andy really was. Andy Warhol also embraced a similarity between his own separation from the masses and that which movies stars and other celebrities endured. The media magnifies the traits of celebrities, leading the public to embellish such attributes. Warhol exaggerated his own oddities, presenting himself as a shy character worthy of intrigue and bewilderment – and it worked!
Andy Warhol’s Silkscreen Technique
Warhol was visionary in his understanding that Pop Art could be mass produced to make it more readily available to a larger audience. Motivated by a desire to grow his popularity and increase his production, Warhol sought to increase his productive capabilities, which would allow his art to become more commercially available at the same time. Silkscreen process provided the answer. It also provided spectacular opportunities to create visually stunning mixed media representations.
For Andy Warhol, the death of Marilyn Monroe in August of 1962 proved to be a catalyst for the artist’s foray into using a silkscreen to achieve profound results. Using a single photograph of Marilyn, a publicity photo for the 1953 film Niagara, which Warhol purchased from the movie studio, he employed silkscreen techniques to replicate the image with varying colors, saturations and imperfections. The results proved to be astounding.
Marilyn Diptych was produced by Andy Warhol during the same month that the actress suddenly died. The piece, containing 25 colored images on the left and 25 black and white images on the right, remains one of the artist’s most popular works. For a stunned public at time of Marilyn’s passing, this piece seemed to suggest so much. One obvious interpretation is that the colored side represents the vibrant life of the actress and right side suggests the starker reality of her life’s story. The silkscreen affectations work to perfection in this piece as well. There’s the supersaturation of color calling out the attributes of hair, eyes and lips. The blurring and fading of the right side of the work speaks volumes about the trauma, tragedy and fading of life.
Empowered by the ability to more quickly reproduce images, Andy Warhol was energized to create multiple varieties of this iconic Marilyn image. In fact, the newfound ability to quickly reproduce freed up Warhol to become prolific in developing works with repetitive subjects, a style that has become synonymous with the artist’s name. Repeating images worked well in sync with the Pop Art vernacular, suggesting the repetitive nature of commercial advertisements.
Andy Warhol’s Celebrities
The success of the Marilyn Monroe paintings brought the realization that celebrities, an obvious lightning rod for the public’s attention, would become staple subjects for Warhol’s Pop Art. Over the years, Andy Warhol created a number of iconic portraits of celebrity subjects, showing them in the artist’s signature style. Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando would all be immortalized by Warhol in the year’s following the first series of Marilyn Monroe portraits.
Warhol’s celebrity portraits became so popular that by the 1970s, celebrities such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and Brigitte Bardot commissioned Andy Warhol to capture their essence in his famous style.
Andy Warhol’s studio in midtown Manhattan was named The Factory, alluding to the industrial look, feel and intention of the space. The Factory became ground zero for Andy to create, collaborate and socialize. Warhol collected people at his famous studio – celebrities, fellow artists and assorted participants, including some he dubbed, “superstars.” The Factory added to the Warhol mystique and placed Andy at the center of happening New York City Pop Art scene. Stories circulated of the unique social gatherings and of the film, photography and mixed media experiments created in this fertile art space. It all contributed to the allure of The Factory.
On June 3rd, 1968, a radical feminist writer named Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol and Mario Amaya, an art critic and curator, at The Factory. Solanas, who was a fringe member of the scene at the studio, was upset over being turned away from The Factory earlier that day, when she attempted to retrieve a script she left in the possession of Warhol, which had gone missing. Andy survived the shooting, but the event left him with injuries that would burden him for the rest of his life. The shooting understandably had an altering affect on the experimental nature of who was to be provided access to the studio.
Originally located on the fifth floor at 231 E. 47th Street, the studio was moved in 1968 to Union Square West near E.16th Street. The studio moved once more in 1973 to 860 Broadway, north corner of Union Square.