On February 22, 1987, American artist and ’60s cultural icon Andy Warhol died. Warhol became widely known beginning in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s for being an influential leader in the pop art movement, which utilized recognizable mass-produced commercial items and cultural figures in art.
Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovakian parents. His roots in his artistic passions can be traced back to the age of 8 when he contracted a nearly fatal condition called Chorea and was given drawing lessons by his artistic mother while he was bedridden. After recovering, he received a camera as a gift and began experimenting with photography, developing his photos in a makeshift darkroom in the basement of his childhood home.
When Warhol was only 14, his father died due to a jaundiced liver, but left his artistic son all of his life’s fortune to pay for his college education. After studying pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Warhol moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue a career as a commercial artist. His talent did not go unnoticed for long, and by the 1950s, Warhol was one of the most highly successful commercial artists in New York City, being assigned to do work for the likes of Vogue, Columbia Records, NBC, Tiffany & Co. and many more. His unique style included a blotted-line technique and the use of rubber stamps he made himself. His blotting technique often created welcomed imperfections in his work of which he said, ”When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”
Recognizing his own popularity, Warhol began to explore the world of fine art and started showing his fine art creations in galleries in the late ’50s and early ’60s. His introduction of pop art works began in 1962. At the Stable Gallery in New York City, he exhibited his iconic Marilyn Diptych and 100 Soup Cans which featured 100 Campbell’s Soup cans. The use of this mass-produced item as art challenged traditional views of what “fine art” was and caused controversy that skyrocketed Warhol to national and international fame. He said of the new pop art movement, “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.”
His portraits of celebrities garnered him a large amount of attention, and he was commissioned to produce portraits for several high-profile clients, including royalty from other countries. Some of his celebrity portraits have sold for millions of dollars, and two of them (Eight Elvises and Turquoise Marilyn) are on the list of most expensive paintings ever sold.
In 1964, Warhol opened his famous silver-painted, and foil-draped studio nicknamed “The Factory” which was trafficked by a number of wealthy socialites and celebrities who Warhol had befriended using his natural social networking skills. Musician Lou Reed wrote his song “Walk on the Wild Side” about The Factory and its high profile guests and prominent fixtures, most of whom were known as Warhols “Superstars.” The “Superstars” were stars of the hundreds of long and short form films Warhol produced in The Factory. In addition to adding film to his repertoire, Warhol also sculpted, took pictures, painted, and did screenprinting.
Fully aware of his celebrity status and coiner of the phrase “15 minutes of fame,” he took full advantage of it by appearing at high society parties and became a fixture at famous nightclubs like Studio 54. Some have even stated that you knew you were at a good party in New York City if Andy Warhol was there.
In 1968, Warhol was shot and almost killed by a marginal Factory figure and radical feminist, Valerie Solanas. The attack deeply affected him and he said of his life that “it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything.” After this, Warhol stopped filming movies of his own, and most of the Warhol films were made by other Factory fixtures.
Warhol’s death came unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning on February 22, 1987. He was recovering from a routine gallbladder surgery when he suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his sleep. His body was buried back in his home of Pittsburgh, and he left his fortune to the development of a foundation dedicated to the “advancement of visual arts.” Thus, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was born.
It has been said that Warhol’s life often mirrored the materialism and celebrity satirized in his works. Some say it dictated his views on how the world is obsessed with money, objects, and fame, while others claim his life was an amalgamation of all these things. Despite the meaning, his works are still some of the most well-known pieces in the world and his 15 minutes of fame are eternal.