Spotlight on Andy Warhol: Biography, Influence, and Legacy

Andy Warhol changed the game for the Pop art movement. By combining high art with consumerism in order to bring modern art to the masses, Warhol successfully bridged the gap between gallery spaces and gift shops.

Warhol influenced the trajectory of American art by furthering Marcel Duchamp’s (master of the “readymade”) questioning of the very nature of art. Warhol reveled in the minute details of ordinary lives, effectively collapsing the boundary between high and low culture. As a founder and key contributor to the Pop art movement, Warhol incorporated everyday objects into his art during the sixties, an era that firmly established his career success. In honor of what would be the prolific artist’s 89th birthday this year, we’re taking a closer look at the genesis of Warhol’s creative success.

Early Life 

Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola, grew up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakland in the 1930s. His father was an immigrant construction worker and his mother an embroiderer who enjoyed drawing and illustrating in her free time. The Warholas were devout Catholics who regularly attended mass and connected with the Eastern European enclave due to their Slovakian heritage.

As a young child, Warhol contracted chorea, a rare disease of the nervous system that often left him bedridden. During these months his mother would give him drawing lessons and his fascination with magazine culture evolved. He was gifted a camera at the age of nine and his creative pursuits quickly became his favorite pastimes.

His father tragically died when Warhol was only 14; however, he had recognized his son’s talent and dictated in his will that his life savings go towards Warhol’s art education. He went on to study pictorial design and pursued a Fine Arts degree at the formerly Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University).  

Artistic Career

Warhol began his career as a graphic designer after graduating and quickly found success working for popular magazines like “Vogue,” “Glamour,” and “Harper’s Bazaar,” as well as retail powerhouses like Tiffany & Co.

As his success as an artist skyrocketed, he opened a studio, nicknamed “The Factory,” which would eventually become a cultural icon in itself. His studio gained this nickname from the production-like nature of the screen printing  process, which involved the participation of several people in a quasi production line. This commercial process, coupled with his fascination with repetition, allowed Warhol to easily reproduce images from pop culture in what would become his signature style.

Artists, celebrities, socialites, and a collection of creatives often gathered at The Factory. In the mid-sixties, as the popularity of Warhol and his studio was reaching new heights, he began exploring other mediums like filmmaking, and created avant garde cinema like “Sleep,” “Empire,” and “Chelsea Girl,” each of which aired sold out screenings in New York and Los Angeles. Over the course of his career he made nearly 600 films and garnered acclaim from art and film critics alike.  

While experimenting with sculpture and performance art, he caught the attention of aspiring playwright and radical Valerie Solanas, who approached him to direct a play of hers. When Warhol rejected her offer, she shot him near the entrance of his studio and forever changed the trajectory of his life and career. Following this traumatic event, Warhol obsessively documented his life and created a distant persona.

Even after his brush with death, his artistic output continued at a rapid pace. He launched several successful musicians, including the Velvet Underground and Nico. Warhol co-founded “Interview” magazine, assisted with popular television shows like “The Love Boat” and “Saturday Night Live,” and wrote prolifically.

He died in 1987 following a routine surgical operation. Following his death, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established, which led to the founding of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Warhol avidly recorded and curated his social network. He documented his life with an audio tape recorder and Minox camera before social media and smartphones were invented.

Andy Warhol deeply impacted the course of art history, as well as American culture, both for Americans themselves and the international community at large. He brought the concept of consumerism to the foreground and further popularized the use of art as a reflection of society, but also as social commentary. When you look at art from different eras, you get a unique insight into the people of the time. Warhol showed us the darker side of the post-war economic boom and allowed viewers to question values, high art, and beauty.

Andy Warhol’s Notable Quotes

Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” – Warhol coined the now infamous term “15 minutes of fame.”

Art is what you can get away with.

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

“People should fall in love with their eyes closed.”

“What’s great about this country is America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.”

“Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”

Andy Warhol in the News

Andy Warhol’s self portrait, strikingly similar to modern day selfies, sold for six million pounds at a recent Sotheby’s auction. You can read more about the sale here.

Check the Andy Warhol database for information on works on sale.