Who is Andy Warhol?
Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928, is considered the co-founder and most important representative of American Pop Art. The son of immigrants from Carpathia in what is now Slovakia, Warhol grew up in poorer circumstances in the slums of Soho. Despite the adverse circumstances, his parents were very keen to nurture their son's talent.
When he was bedridden for a long time as a child due to a nerve disease, he discovered his passion for comics and cinema. His mother Julia supplied him with comic books and film magazines. Warhol began to draw, cut out figures and play with them. At the age of eight, his parents gave him his first camera. He was the first in his family to attend college and studied commercial art at the Carnegy Institute of Technology in Pittsburg from 1945. He graduated in painting and design in 1949.
Warhol's early career: Illustrator for Vogue, Tiffany and Columbia Records
After graduating, Andy Warhol moved to New York City and embarked on a career as a commercial artist. Already at this time he parted with the "a" in his family name Warhola. His success was not long in coming: after only a few days in New York, he illustrated a story for Glamour magazine entitled "What is Success?". By the 1950s, he was an award-winning illustrator with big-name clients such as Tiffany &Co, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Columbia Records. Nevertheless, Warhol still found time for art. He developed distinctive, recurring motifs such as shoes, food or men kissing. In addition, he self-published artist books together with friends and writers during this decade.
Warhol's big breakthrough: Campbell's Soup Can
Although Warhol was a permanent visitor to the progressive galleries of New York, where Pop Art was slowly establishing itself, he initially remained an outsider to the art world. His homoerotic drawings and comic-inspired paintings did not go down well with dealers and gallery owners.
So Warhol turned to painting in the 1960s and finally had his big breakthrough with the consumer motif Campbell soup cans. For his first Pop Art solo exhibition in 1962, he created the series "Campbell's Soup Can": 32 soup cans, each in a different flavour and hand-painted. He also made sculptures out of cardboard and wood that were meant to imitate the commercial packaging of everyday products in terms of size and painting.
How does Warhol's famous photo screen-printing technique work?
Andy Warhol began experimenting with means of mechanical reproduction, in particular photo screen printing. This pioneering process enabled him to reproduce images easily and print them in series on painted canvases. However, Warhol deliberately avoided the possibility of screen printing for exact reproduction throughout his career, experimenting impulsively with his colour combinations.
His famous work of Marilyn Monroe is among Warhol's first photographic prints. A series of celebrity portraits followed, including Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. In his series "Death and Disasters" (1963-64), Warhol showed the darker side of celebrity glamour: pictures of Jackie Kennedy shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or the sick Elisabeth Taylor in hospital. His paintings Car Crashes, Suicides, Electric Chairs and Race Riot, created during this creative period, picked up cruel photos from magazines. They contrasted with the otherwise commercial advertising motifs such as packaging and consumer objects that Warhol's works exaggerate.
Why does "Flowers" reflect Warhol's typical pop style?
Warhol's 1964 silkscreen Flowers (currently on view at MUCA) is an archetypal example of his distinctive Pop style and offers important insights into the ideas and circumstances that gave rise to the Pop movement. With its bright, eye-catching colours, as popularly used on contemporary billboards and in paper advertising, Warhol's painting demonstrates Pop Art's overriding desire to channel and emulate the aesthetic techniques and means of the commercial mass media that were developing in the 1960s.
In Flowers, as in his other silkscreen series, Warhol exaggerates and celebrates the recognisable signs of the machine production of his images. The background has the grainy texture of the photograph from which the print was taken. The bold blocks of colour draw attention to the methodology of the screen-printing process in a way that hides the artist's unique signature, which was rooted in the recent modernist tradition.
For Warhol, as for other Pop artists, art provided a medium to use the contemporary reproductive technologies of mass media and consumer culture to question the value and role of authenticity and originality, of singularity and homogenisation, and of choice and free will in the "Golden Age of Capitalism". Warhol's "Flowers" is another commentary on the relationship between singularity and homogenisation. The singularity of real flowers, each unique in its proportions and place in nature, is - at first glance - completely obliterated by the print medium's seemingly miraculous ability to reproduce them accurately.
Andy Warhol IN THE "25 YEARS" EXHIBITION AT MUCA MUNICH
At the MUCA, the silkscreen "Flowers" (1964) by Andy Warhol was on display in the "25 Years" anniversary exhibition (06.10.2022-10.09.2023).
Warhol's studio "Factory": infamous parties and moving pictures
In 1963, Warhol set up his studio in a rented firehouse in a fifth-floor loft on East 47th Street. He called the studio "Factory" and covered all surfaces with silver. The "Factory" became the meeting place of the New York art scene and a place of immense creativity, but also notorious for debauched parties. Warhol was inspired to create a new genre: he bought his first film camera and shot hundreds of silent four-minute screen tests played in slow motion in his studio between 1963 and 1966 with a stationary Bolex camera.
The moving image captivated him so much that he announced his retirement from painting in 1965. Until 1968 he produced almost 650 underground films. His greatest commercial success was "The Chelsea Girls", which shows the everyday life of some stars uncut and is considered a precursor of reality series. Warhol was constantly on the lookout for new experimental art formats: in 1966 he turned to performance art and staged a cinematic multimedia performance for the band "The Velvet Underground", with live music, lighting effects, projected film footage and live dancers.
Warhol in the 70s: Rolling Stones, Mao and Piss and Oxidation
A turning point in Warhol's life was an assassination attempt in June 1968. The radical feminist writer Valerie Solanis, who had also worked in Warhol's film "I, a Man" (1967), shot him in his studio. Warhol barely survived, and since then he has been severely scarred, both physically and mentally. He moved away from the experimental colloboration approach in his work and became more reserved.
At the end of the 1960s, Warhol increasingly immersed himself in publishing and became co-founder of "Interview", a magazine about film, fashion and pop culture. He published his first book for the masses in 1967: "Andy Warhol`s Index". In 1971, together with Craig Braun, he designed the cover for the Rolling Stones' album "Sticky Fingers". He was a regular at the famous Studio 54 and received hundreds of commissions from celebrities and stars from the film and music scene in the 1970s.
A major 1972 exhibition of portraits of Communist leader Mao indicate Warhol's renewed turn to painting. Based on a widely circulated official image, he created nearly 200 paintings of Mao, including several wall-sized versions. Vote McGovern (1972), Ladies and Gentlemen (1975), Skulls (1976), Hammer and Sickle (1976) and Oxidation Paintings (1978) were a series of controversial paintings produced in the 1970s. Although Warhol had distanced himself from abstraction early on, he found radical ways to rethink it in the 1970s. His "Piss and Oxidations", for example, were created by urinating on canvases coated with metallic paints.
what are Warhol's "Time Capsules"?
Warhol began to document his life: he compared taking pictures to keeping a "visual diary". In addition to photographs, he recorded his studio work on video, began keeping a written diary with "Factory Diaries" and recorded a total of 4,000 hours of conversations over the course of his life, from business lunches to social occasions with stars. His largest serial work, "Time Capsules", from 1974 onwards, also testifies to his new archiving impulse. He filled around 600 "time capsules", boxes, filing cabinets and suitcases, with ephemera: letters, correspondence, souvenirs, ticket stubs, etc., from the time of the 1950s until his surprising death in 1987 at the age of 58 in New York after a routine operation.