Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – February 22, 1987, New York) was an American artist who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as Pop Art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became a renowned and sometimes controversial artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives. It is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist.
Warhol's art encompassed many forms of media, including hand drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. He was also a pioneer in computer-generated art using Amiga computers that were introduced in 1984, two years before his death. He founded Interview Magazine and was the author of numerous books, including The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and Popism: The Warhol Sixties. He is also notable as a gay man who lived openly as such before the gay liberation movement. His studio, The Factory, was a famous gathering place that brought together distinguished intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, Bohemian street people, Hollywood celebrities, and wealthy patrons.
Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films. He coined the widely used expression "15 minutes of fame". Many of his creations are very collectible and highly valuable.
By the beginning of the 1960s, Warhol had become a very successful commercial illustrator. His detailed and elegant drawings for I. Miller shoes were particularly popular. They consisted mainly of "blotted ink" drawings (or monoprints), a technique which he applied in much of his early art. Although many artists of this period worked in commercial art, most did so discreetly. Warhol was so successful, however, that his profile as an illustrator seemed to undermine his efforts to be taken seriously as an artist.
Pop Art was an experimental form that several artists were independently adopting; some of these pioneers, such as Roy Lichtenstein, would later become synonymous with the movement. Warhol, who would become famous as the "Pope of Pop", turned to this new style, where popular subjects could be part of the artist's palette. His early paintings show images taken from cartoons and advertisements, hand-painted with paint drips. Marilyn Monroe was a pop art painting that Warhol had done and it was very popular. Those drips emulated the style of successful abstract expressionists (such as Willem de Kooning). Warhol's first pop art paintings were displayed in April 1961, serving as the backdrop for New York Department Store Bronwit Teller's window display. This was the same stage his Pop Art contemporaries Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg had also once graced. Eventually, Warhol pared his image vocabulary down to the icon itself—to brand names, celebrities, dollar signs—and removed all traces of the artist's "hand" in the production of his paintings.
To him, part of defining a niche was defining his subject matter. Cartoons were already being used by Lichtenstein, typography by Jasper Johns, and so on; Warhol wanted a distinguishing subject. His friends suggested he should paint the things he loved the most. It was the gallerist Muriel Latow who came up with the ideas for both the soup cans and Warhol's dollar paintings. For his first major exhibition Warhol painted his famous cans of Campbell's Soup, which he claimed to have had for lunch for most of his life.
Warhol loved celebrities, so he painted them as well. From these beginnings he developed his later style and subjects. Instead of working on a signature subject matter, as he started out to do, he worked more and more on a signature style, slowly eliminating the handmade from the artistic process. Warhol frequently used silk-screening; his later drawings were traced from slide projections. At the height of his fame as a painter, Warhol had several assistants who produced his silk-screen multiples, following his directions to make different versions and variations.
In 1979, Warhol was commissioned by BMW to paint a Group 4 race version of the then elite supercar BMW M1 for the fourth installment in the BMW Art Car Project. Unlike the three artists before him, Warhol declined the use of a small scale practice model, instead opting to immediately paint directly onto the full scale automobile.
Warhol produced both comic and serious works; his subject could be a soup can or an electric chair. Warhol used the same techniques—silkscreens, reproduced serially, and often painted with bright colors - whether he painted celebrities, everyday objects, or images of suicide, car crashes, and disasters, as in the 1962-1963 Death and Disaster series.
The unifying element in Warhol's work is his deadpan Keatonesque style - artistically and personally affectless. This was mirrored by Warhol's own demeanor, as he often played "dumb" to the media, and refused to explain his work. The artist was famous for having said that all you need to know about him and his works is already there, "Just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it."
His Rorschach inkblots are intended as pop comments on art and what art could be. His cow wallpaper (literally, wallpaper with a cow motif) and his oxidation paintings (canvases prepared with copper paint that was then oxidized with urine) are also noteworthy in this context. Equally noteworthy is the way these works—and their means of production—mirrored the atmosphere at Andy's New York "Factory".
Warhol's first portrait of Basquiat (1982) is a black photosilkscreen over an oxidized copper "piss painting".
After many years of silkscreen, oxidation, photography, etc., Warhol returned to painting with a brush in hand in a series of over 50 large collaborative works done with Jean-Michel Basquiat between 1984 and 1986. Despite negative criticism when these were first shown, Warhol called some of them "masterpieces," and they were influential for his later work.
The influence of the large collaborations with Basquiat can be seen in Warhol's The Last Supper cycle, his last and possibly his largest series, seen by some as "arguably his greatest," but by others as “wishy-washy, religiose” and “spiritless." It is also the largest series of religious-themed works by any U.S. artist.
At the time of his death, Warhol was working on Cars, a series of paintings for Mercedes-Benz.