In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at famed Pop artist Andy Warhol.
Andy Warhol needs no introduction; such is the power of his own branding. And this phenomenon does not limit itself to Warhol himself but everything that he made his subject. Be it the celebrities he captured in his inimitable style, or the products that he has immortalised.
How he came to be an artist is very interesting. Born on 1928, to parents who were Slovak immigrants, young Andy grew up in Oakland, Pittsburgh. His parents were devout Byzantine Catholics. His father was a construction worker and his mother an embroiderer.
Despite a very humble beginning, his talent was going to surface. And it was going to be etched in public memory and viewership for several generations. But first about the source of his inspiration – his mother Julia Warhola. Debilitated by a severe illness, and bedridden, Julia, to distract, teach and entertain her son began giving him art lessons. Later when he was presented with a camera – an artist, and an advertising genius was born.
The family was very close. When Andy’s father passed away, it was a silent and serious registering and recognition of Andy’s talent. Andy made good on his blessings and by the time he graduated from Carnegie Mellon (Carnegie Institute for Technology in 1945) he was ready for his break as a commercial artist with Glamour magazine.
Dropping the ‘a’ from his surname – he became Andy Warhol to the world. Several awards and fame followed. From advertising and commercial art, Warhol branched into painting, his first love.
Warhol and Pop Art
Warhol is remembered for his unique style. His technique is blotting but the visual he presented was so eye catching. It did not fail to make a mark. By his own admission – he said, “Once you ‘got’ pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again.”
This was his hallmark style, so deeply owned by him that his name and visual vocabulary are inseparable.
The Campbell Soup Can and Andy
The Onion 47 is a significant part of Warhol’s first portfolios titled Campbell’s Soup, Campbell’s Soup I.
Andy was fascinated with consumer items all his life. The way they were packaged, their utility and amongst all what they stood to signify. The cultural implications of tinned food were many. During the World War canned food gained a deep significance. Also since he was an immigrant, growing up Andy was familiar with paucity and how produce was stock-piled and stored. This found it sway into his art several times.
There was another more personal reason, Warhol claimed that he had eaten Campbell’s Soup for lunch for most of his life. Much to the glee of advertising giants and their ardent followers. He continued to depict familiar consumer items like Coca-Cola throughout the 1960s.
Warhol’s had an enigmatic personality and his life and his personal choices have come to be discussed and a subject of many conversations. The homoerotic imagery in his arts led to conjectures about him being gay, he claimed otherwise.
He worked extensively with filming and produced several films along with his art. It can be said that he was critiquing the many masks and shades that society wears, a society that he himself was very much a part of. Warhol never separated himself from his environment, he drew from it and presented it in an unforgettable way. Warhol’s focus on consumerism and pop-culture icons, go to suggests that he celebrated multiple aspects of American culture, viewed from a different perspective.
In his definitive book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol which charts its way through ‘Pop’ culture, art and advertising, Warhol spoke about apparent contradiction between his life and work.
“Making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art.”
To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.