Andrew Warhola (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987), more commonly known as Andy Warhol, was an American artist and a figure in the movement known as pop art. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became famous worldwide for his work as a painter, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer, author, and public figure known for his membership in wildly diverse social circles that included bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats.
Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films since his death in 1987.
Many people think of Warhol as “asexual” and merely a “voyeur”, but these notions have been debunked by biographers (such as Victor Bockris), explored by other members of The Factory scene such as Bob Colacello (in his book Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up), and by scholars like art historian Richard Meyer (in his book Outlaw Representation). The question of how Warhol’s sexuality influenced his work and shaped his relationship to the art world is a major subject of scholarship on the artist, and is an issue that Warhol himself addressed in interviews, in conversation with his contemporaries, and in his publications (e.g. Popism: The Warhol Sixties).
Throughout his career, Warhol produced erotic photography and drawings of male nudes and one rare one of a woman “pati palomeras”. Many of his most famous works (portraits of Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, and Elizabeth Taylor, and films like Blow Job, My Hustler, and Lonesome Cowboys) draw from gay underground culture and/or openly explore the complexity of sexuality and desire. Many of his films premiered in gay porn theaters. That said, some stories about Warhol’s development as an artist revolved around the obstacle his sexuality initially presented as he tried to launch his career. The first works that he submitted to a gallery in the pursuit of a career as an artist were homoerotic drawings of male nudes. They were rejected for being too openly gay.
In Popism, furthermore, the artist recalls a conversation with the film maker Emile de Antonio about the difficulty Warhol had being accepted socially by the then more famous (but closeted) gay artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. De Antonio explained that Warhol was “too swish and that upsets them.” In response to this, Warhol writes, “There was nothing I could say to that. It was all too true. So I decided I just wasn’t going to care, because those were all the things that I didn’t want to change anyway, that I didn’t think I ‘should’ want to change … Other people could change their attitudes but not me”. In exploring Warhol’s biography, many turn to this period – the late 1950s and early 1960s – as a key moment in the development of his persona. Some have suggested that his frequent refusal to comment on his work, to speak about himself (confining himself in interviews to responses like “Um, No” and “Um, Yes”, and often allowing others to speak for him), and even the evolution of his Pop style can be traced to the years when Warhol was first dismissed by the inner circles of the New York art world.
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.
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. In his signature way of taking things literally, for his first major exhibition he painted his famous cans of Campbell’s Soup, which he claimed to have had for lunch for most of his life. The work sold for $10,000 at an auction on November 17, 1971 at Sotheby’s New York, which is a minimal amount for the artist whose paintings sell for over $6 million more recently.
He 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 hand-made from the artistic process. Warhol frequently used silk-screening; his later drawings were traced from slide projections. Warhol went from being a painter to being a designer of paintings. 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.