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Andy Warhol

American

1928, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1987, New York, New York

Biography

An iconic figure in twentieth-century art and culture, Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola, the son of working-class immigrants from Slovakia. He studied commercial art in Pittsburgh before moving to New York in 1949 and beginning a highly successful career as an advertising illustrator.

A decade later Warhol started making paintings (at first handmade, later silkscreened) of images lifted directly from the mass media. His range included consumer products (Campbell's soup cans) and movie stars (Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley), as well as darker aspects of American culture, including race riots, car crashes, and the electric chair.

Warhol's inexpressive painting style was mirrored by his famously flat, monotone persona. An obsession with Hollywood glamour inspired a series of experimental films, often campy in tone and explicitly homoerotic. Warhol's Factory — a term for both his studio and the associated network of actors, musicians, druggies, and hangers-on — has become synonymous with 1960s bohemia. Although his work was initially controversial for its apparent non-art status, he quickly achieved both critical and commercial success.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Warhol's celebrity arguably eclipsed his art, although he produced several innovative bodies of work during this period. He died in 1987 from complications following a routine gallbladder surgery.

Audio Stories

Filmmaker Marc Huestis on Warhol’s obsession with celebrity

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transcripts

NARRATOR:

Andy Warhol was fascinated by commercial images of all types — Campbell’s soup cans, boxes of Brillo — but celebrity was the central theme of his life and career. Here’s San Francisco impresario Marc Huestis with his take.

 

MARC HUESTIS:

I know that his obsession with celebrity started in the early sixties and, you know, was sort of an evolution of the branding of the Brillo boxes and stuff like that, where he was one of the first people to see that, indeed, celebrities were brands, as well.

 

NARRATOR:

Warhol returned again and again to those “brands”: Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, Elvis. His favorite portrait subjects were people whose images were already familiar: Hollywood actors, criminals, politicians, musicians, but also people whose lives were marked by tragedy. He was interested in the contrast between the person and the persona. The person was subject to tragedy— addiction, heartache, death— whereas the persona rose above.

 

But fame, like life, is fleeting. Marc Huestis.

 

HUESTIS:

I think that Warhol’s, quote of… Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes… I mean, goddamn, that’s just, like, particularly these days, is so accurate.

 

NARRATOR:

Warhol did everything he could to make sure his fame lasted longer than fifteen minutes. His persona has been called his greatest work of art, and over the course of his career, he used self-portraits to build and maintain his public image, to ensure his own immortality even long after his death.

 

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