Art and literature have always done a good job depicting the social-economic conditions and trends of the time. From cave engravings to classical art and modern paintings, art is a medium of expression and creativity. Every major literary movement or age has had its fair share of artists, writers, and painters stirring up the world with their revolutionary ideas and breaking free from their times. Andy Warhol is one such influential and prolific pop artist and illustrator of the post-modern period who combines the best of avant-garde and commercial sensibilities in his art. He was among the most successful and highly paid artists in New York best known for his iconic “Pop Art” such as screen printed images of Marilyn Monroe, soup cans, and sensational newspaper cover stories.
Best Known Works of Andy Warhol
Let’s check the most popular and famous art works of Andy Warhol.
Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)
By 1960 the abstract expressionism of the 1940s-50s had become very stale and cliché failing to grasp the viewer’s attention for long. Warhol was among the first artists to break free from the conventions and create a separate style of art that involved the use of imagery and illusions. Muriel Latow, a friend of Warhol suggested the idea of painting common everyday objects and items that people usually overlook. She advised him to recreate exact replications of items that he used daily such as soup cans and coco cola bottles.
Warhol was a successful advertisement designer before venturing into the world of art. He used his illustrative skills in creating the artwork that was not only relatable but also appealing. The artwork consisted of 32 cans of soup, each can covering a canvas symbolizing the mass appeal of consumer goods and glorification of the capitalistic economy.
Coca Cola is among the first works of pop art produced by Warhol that depicts an ordinary, everyday item in its center. The artwork is a hand painted recreation of the coca cola bottle that looks almost realistic and is created by Caesin on cotton. As explained by the artist himself, “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about.” With the artwork, the artist challenges the domination of Abstract expressionism- the painting is at the same height as most standard canvases created during that period. The artwork though similar in the physical dimensions has nothing abstract or vague about it.
The painting is quite similar to Robert Motherwell’s popular Stations of the Cross series. Coca Cola displays the main picture in black ink over a white background highlighting the effect and visual appeal of the image immensely. It is ironic how an everyday item could now grab the viewer’s attention and keep him hooked like the conventional expressionist paintings.
Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962)
Andy Warhol was obsessed with pop culture icons that reflected heavily in his artwork. The mysterious and untimely death of Marilyn Monroe from a drug overdose in August 1962 left the artist devastated. As a tribute to Monroe, Warhol got a black and white Polaroid of the actress, (a 1953 still from her movie Niagara) and used it as an inspiration to create a series of images using the silkscreen technique. The repetitive nature of the artwork, a signature style of Warhol symbolized the popularity of Monroe whose pictures were often printed in the newspapers. However, the sheer media frenzy and buzz around the actress was so much that people now did not look at her as another person but as a commercial commodity.
Marilyn’s face is featured on a large golden background that is reminiscent of the Byzantine religious icons giving the actress an almost godly appeal. Here, Warhol attempts at highlighting the tragedy and fall of the actress by juxtaposing her picture with the Orthodox faiths subtly commenting on the glorification of celebrities.
It was during the 1960s that Warhol moved on from painting to the silver screen. He made over 600 films in his lifetime that covered a wide range of themes and topics. Sleep is one of Warhol’s early ventures into an experimental cinema where he first forays into the dynamics of cinematic duration and storytelling. The six-hour movie covers a detailed account of John Giorno’s sleeping form.
Giorno, a former lover of the artist, is shown sleeping peacefully throughout the movie except for the occasional twitching and eye movements. A strip of skin or a body part was displayed in each scene that seems to be a series of continuous shots. However, the project consisted of over six 100-foot film rolls that were edited, layered and spliced together to create this masterpiece.
All of Warhol’s work had an underlying theme of repetition that somehow transformed the most mundane activities into works of art. Other films like “Empire” and “Eat” also follow the same cinematographic technique.
Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times (1963)
Orange Car Crash is a part of the Death and Disaster series that features gory and graphic images that were taken from newspapers depicting the accidents or deaths occurring worldwide. Warhol uses photo silk screening technique to recreate the pictures using layers to reinvent the degradation across the canvas. The repetitive technique highlights the futility and fragmentation of the picture and yet also sterilizes it – the viewer is shaken by the graphic content but not completely distraught. Warhol reproduces the image over and over until it loses its impact and becomes yet another picture in the papers.
Another analysis of the painting by the Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight tries to connect the picture to an actual incident that happened on Long Island where Jackson Pollock died in 1956. Knight proposes that though the artwork Warhol tries to indicate the death of abstract expressionism, which was heavily endorsed by Pollock.
Brillo Boxes (1964)
In the Brillo Boxes, Warhol uses the silk screening technique yet again, this time on plywood. The artwork recreated everyday items and common products found in supermarkets in a very realistic way. Brillo Boxes is not really a painting but a series of boxes, each an exact replication of the other that could be stacked or arranged in galleries anyway you want adding on to the authenticity of the theme.
Unlike other artists who attempted to do the same albeit with slight variations in each block such as Monet’s haystacks or cathedrals, Warhol’s art particularly ensures that all the blocks are the same. This reinstates the theme of “factory processed” goods and pokes fun at industrialization.
The artwork also has an underlying personal implication – Warhol with Brillo Boxes attempts to highlight monotonous nature of life back in his hometown Pittsburgh. The city was known for its steel that later became a commodity stereotypically used by housewives to shine their utensils.
The image of Mao Zedong was created using a combination of paint and silk screen as a direct reaction to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. He used the black and white image of Mao from the Little Red Book as an inspiration to create hundreds of varying canvases. Some of the paintings are almost 15×10 feet high implying the dominance and impressive personality of the ruler. The huge sized canvases can also be interpreted as a comment on the propaganda used by China during the Cultural Revolution. The different canvases were placed strategically looking like coke bottles arranged on a supermarket aisle thereby making Mao a consumer product, something that is against the very idea of communism.
The painting also features splashes of color like rouge on her cheeks and blue eye shadow that was an act of rebellion against the growing communist propaganda. The expressionistic brush strokes around Mao’s face further symbolized creative freedom and personal expression.
The Self Portrait was among the most successful artworks by Andy Warhol that was created in the entire time period of his career revealing a shocking underlying theme on closer analysis. This self-portrait is an image of Warhol that was invented and reinvented throughout his artistic career. The iconic pop culture artist who started out as a shy, introvert and nerdy designer soon rose to be one of the most well-known faces of modern art. In fact, his popularity rose to such heights that Warhol was considered nothing short of a pop icon of his times.
The artwork features Warhol wearing a wig (he did sport over a dozen wigs over the years) and was created using the synthetic polymer paint and silk screen technique on canvas. In Self Portrait, the artist uses repetitive and overlapping images, each slightly different from the other to create an illusion of movement.
Andy Warhol – Early Life
Like most artists, even Warhol lived a life full of struggles. Born on August 6, 1928, in an Eastern European immigrant family from Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol emerged from poverty and obscurity to become a major figure in the post-modern New York society. His parents had emigrated from Czechoslovakia and were later settled in Pittsburgh. Even as a child, Warhol was inclined towards art and would often be seen drawing or coloring. His mother, being artistic herself had a major influence on his initial experiments with art.
The artist had a difficult childhood as he contracted the St. Vitus’ dance or chorea, a medical condition where the nerves are severely affected causing uncontrollable spasms and shaking limbs, at an early age. High school was no better, as Warhol grew up to be a shy, introvert teen who would often keep to himself sketching in a notebook. He signed up for art courses in his school and at the Carnegie museum to further sharpen his talents. As a pale-skinned, lanky boy with white-blonde hair, Warhol was always an outcast and could never really mingle with the mainstream crowd. However, that never deterred him from following his passion. Other than painting, he also had an interest in cinema and loved collecting souvenirs and celebrity autographed photos, most of which were featured in his later works.
Warhol’s Unique Style
Andy Warhol was an artist who, in spite of being from a poor underprivileged background, managed to make a place in the circles of high society and introduce some innovative and path-breaking styles and subjects in modern art. His early commercial illustrations were often comic and whimsical, very different from the impersonal and practical mood of his later works. Warhol continued pursuing art even during his college years discovering new and innovative styles of painting such as the blotted line technique, where he would tape two pieces of paper, draw on one side with ink and press the pages together before they dried. Later he would highlight and sharpen the image with watercolor creating beautiful artwork.
The blotted line artworks were a hit in the 1950’s and used in a lot of advertisements such as those from I Miller, Tiffany & Company and numerous album covers. Andy Warhol was obsessed with celebrities, consumerism and mechanical culture; that is reflected in his pop art works.
Art and Andy Warhol
From early on in his career, Andy Warhol had been a charismatic magnet for bohemian New York. His initial artworks had a distinctive dreamy and decorative tone, very different from his “pop art”. He established his reputation as a pop artist with iconic screen-printed images such as that of the Death and Disaster series, and his Marilyn pictures that expressed his sorrow at controversial suicide of the actress. Critics also view these pictures as an expression of “compassioned fatigue” or screens that somehow connect yet separate the public from horrifying events.
There have been artists all throughout the 20 th century who have drawn on popular culture, however, with pop art, Warhol carved a special place for himself breaking down the hierarchy of high and low art forms. His early paintings from the 1960s and his diverse activities later proved to be really influential in eradicating the barriers between conventional art and popular culture.
Although Warhol continued painting throughout his career, he took a break and “retired” from art to concentrate on filmmaking. Their experimental films were not much appreciated in their day; however, the projects have recently attracted worldwide acclaim making Warhol a forefather of independent cinema. Warhol’s fame eventually declined in 1968 after he was shot by Valerie Solanas.
Warhol and Pop Art
After his immense success with blotted line art and illustrations for endorsements, Warhol decided to experiment with pop art sometime around 1960. Pop art was a growing style of art that originated in mid -1950s England featuring a realistic rendition of common items.
Warhol emerged as a major pop artist as he let go of ink and ventured into the world of colors and canvas. He started out with re-creating coke bottles and comic strips, but his initial works failed to gather much acclaim. It was in December 1951 that a friend suggested that Warhol break away from the conventional pop art themes and instead paint about things that appeal the most to him such as soup cans or money. This inspired him to paint the Campbell’s Soup and Coco Cola paintings that were an instant hit in the art community.
Andy Warhol’s first art exhibition was displayed in the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles gallery in 1962 featuring his iconic Campbell’s Soup painting. The artwork consisted of 32 types of soup cans, a canvas dedicated to each type. The exhibition was a huge success where all his paintings were sold as set for $1,000.
Warhol Switches to the Silk Screen
Pop art, though attractive and unique, took a lot of time and effort to create. Warhol eventually realised that painting on canvas was very time taking and unprofitable for his artistic career. Therefore, in 1962, he then switched over to silk screening. In this technique, special silk threads were used for creating multiple repetitive patterns. The process was a lot faster and appealing than his earlier works encouraging Warhol to re-create pictures of celebrities. The series of paintings featuring Marilyn Monroe was created using silk screening and remains one of the best known artworks of his career. Warhol practiced this style of art throughout his life.
Warhol and Filmmaking
The 1960s were a high point of Andy Warhol’s career; it was during this period that he ventured into the different styles of art such as sketching, painting, and also filmmaking. His films discovered unconventional and abstract ideas and focused on revealing the inner workings of the human psyche. He made nearly 60 movies between 1963 to 1968 that explored the varying themes and intricacies of the society and the world at large. For instance, one of his movies called “Sleep” is a six hour film that covers a detailed account of his lover sleeping. Warhol’s cinematic themes and direction were not very popular among the mainstream public and hence failed to gather the appreciation they deserved. However, the modern critics and recent filmmakers have proclaimed Warhol as a pioneer of independent cinema.
Shockingly on 3 rd July 1968, Warhol was shot in the chest by an actress Valerie Solanas walked into the sets of “The Factory” and attacked him. Warhol though pronounced dead 30 minutes after the episode miraculously managed to survive when the doctor, in a desperate attempt to revive him, cut open his chest and pumped his bare heart. However, his health declined after the incident, leaving him weak and unfit to continue his artwork.
Warhol did not give up on art even after a near death experience, during the 1970s-80s Warhol focused on publishing his magazine called the Interview and several books about pop art. He even ventured into television and was enthusiastic about spreading the pop culture across all art and media platforms.
Interesting Trivia on Warhol
Andy Warhol, pop icon of the 1960s was known for his extravagant personality and larger than life depictions of seemingly ordinary objects. However, there are a few facts about the artist that not many are aware of:
- Born in Pittsburgh in 1928, Warhol’s birth name was actually Andrew Warhola,
- The premiere of his first movie ” Sleep” that is a six-hour depiction of his lover sleeping was attended by nine people, two of whom left within the first hour itself
- Warhol called his studio “The Factory” that was a famous meeting place for celebrities and artists
- He was a hypochondriac, i.e. Warhol was scared of hospitals and doctors
- The artist produced works of many celebs in the 1970s including icons like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Diana Ross.
- Warhol founded the New York Academy of Art in 1979.
- The artist had an interesting sense of style and was seen sporting silver wigs (he eventually dyed his hair silver)
- Other than creating incredible paintings, Warhol also published a magazine called Interview, produced over 600 films, opened a night club and created two cable shows
Death and Legacy
Andy Warhol suffered from chronic ailments in his gall bladder later in his life that eventually led to his demise. The artist health had already declined after the near fatal attack by the actress Valerie Solanas. He was admitted in New York Hospital on 20 th February 1987 where he underwent a surgery for removal of his gall bladder and his body was apparently stable and recovering. However, a few days later he had a cardiac arrest and died February 22, 1987, at the age of 58. The memorial was held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and was attended by friends, family, colleagues, and thousands of fans.
The artist though very shy in his early years led quite an enigmatic life attracting speculations and controversies due to his varied activities and unconventional beliefs. Many believed him to be homosexual and looked at his art as an expression of his sexuality. Warhol’s artwork could best be described as ironic as it continuously celebrated and berated celebrates and the consumerist attitude of the American culture. He also mentored artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat while his pop sensibilities have inspired many contemporary artists such as Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons, to carry on his legacy forward.