- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
As a dominant figure on the 1960s New York avant-garde art scene, Andy Warhol became a tireless self-promoter who straddled a line between bizarre media stardom and the straight-laced business world.
He was born Andrew Warhola Jr. in Pittsburgh in 1928, the youngest son of Slovakian immigrants. At age 8, Warhola contracted the nervous-system disease Sydenham chorea (also known as St. Vitus Dance).
He spent months in bed recovering, during which time his artist mother taught him how to draw. When she gave him a camera, the sickly lad also developed a passionate interest in photography.
After high school, Warhola attended the Carnegie Institute for Technology, where he studied pictorial design. Four years later, with degree in hand, he moved to Manhattan to work for Glamour magazine. There he became a successful commercial artist who now called himself Andy Warhol.
Always happy to embrace the controversial, he became a pioneer of “pop art” with his now-iconic paintings of mass-produced consumer goods such as cans of Campbell’s soup, Coca-Cola bottles, and boxes of Brillo soap pads. His development of a photographic silkscreen printing process allowed him to repeat images and create multiple copies of a subject.
Warhol was fascinated with celebrityhood. Thanks to his printmaking skills, he produced an endless variation of stylized images — often done in vivid, garish colors — of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley (his particular favorites), as well as such other superstars as Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy.
He always remained an art-gallery favorite and was especially beloved by those who sought the unconventional. One typical Warhol exhibit featured collected scenes of car wrecks, electric chairs, and race riots, all done in lurid candy hues.
His reputation and his bank account grew large. In 1964, he opened a Manhattan warehouse loft that was covered in tinfoil and featured silver-painted walls. The Factory, as it was called, became the premier cultural hotspot for creative counter-culturists, as well as a meeting place for the trendy rich and famous.
Weekends often found Warhol and his hangers-on at such “in” local nightspots as Studio 54 and Max’s Kansas City, where those lucky enough to be allowed entrance often mingled with artists, musicians, poets, and the occasional politician.
Throughout the 1960s, Warhol experimented with various forms of media, including publishing, television, music production, fashion, and theater.
One favorite endeavor was the filming of underground movies. He released more than 60 works, some of which ran for 25 hours and appeared meaningless to traditional moviegoers; Sleep, for example, just showed a man sleeping for several hours.
His world changed in 1968 when he was shot in the stomach by radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas, who was irate because Warhol had rejected a story she had written. Warhol survived the attack, which damaged several organs, but the remainder of his days were spent wrapped in a surgical corset.
When he died at age 58 in 1987 following gallbladder surgery, he left his estate to what is now the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.