Everything you need to know about Andy Warhol's art

BY Kathleen Bondar

11th Sep 2023 Culture

4 min read

Everything you need to know about Andy Warhol's art
Andy Warhol's signature style is beyond iconic. We take a look at his illustrious career and some of his best art
Andy Warhol (1928–1987) overturned preconceptions of high art in the 1960s with his paintings of everyday consumer goods and portraits of celebrities inspired by advertising, tabloids and comic strips. 
Andy Warhol’s training and commercial success underpinned his creativity. He graduated from the Carnegie Institute for Technology with a degree in Fine Arts which catapulted him into a highly successful career as an advertising illustrator at Glamour magazine in the 1950s. Moreover, his take as a gay man on the all-pervasive, saccharine, straight culture of mid-century America might have had an effect.
"Warhol overturned preconceptions of high art in the 1960s with his paintings"
Quite simply, Warhol’s Pop Art presented the mainstream through a new lens. As Warhol himself put it, "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." 

What is pop art?

Repetitive images presented in grid-format hit the art scene with Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans (hand painted) and Green Coca-Cola Bottles (both 1962), swiftly followed by portraits of the famous from Marilyn Monroe to Chairman Mao. Overnight Warhol became the leading proponent of Pop Art. British artist Richard Hamilton aptly summed up the new art movement as "popular, transient, expendable, low cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business." 
Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup I: Tomato (II.46), 1968. Image: Strode Photographic. © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Andy Warhol was a master of clever one-liners, rather like Oscar Wilde, which turned criticism on its head. For Art News, 1962, he quipped, “The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine.” 
Marylin Monroe was Warhol’s first silkscreen-print muse. Marilyn Diptych (1962) comprises of two canvases repeating Monroe’s portrait in a grid pattern. One side is touched with bright colours showing her screen persona, the other is black and white denoting her troubled private life. Portraits of Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and many more ensued. Soon Warhol was commissioned by the wealthy to paint their portraits, for which he used Polaroids and charged his patrons a small fortune. He also painted several self-portraits, including Self Portrait (1966). 
Andy Warhol, Selt-Portrait, 1866. © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Warhol’s New York studio, “The Factory”, established in 1964, attracted the avant-garde and celebrities. Hustlers and transvestites who frequented the warehouse inspired Lou Reed’s hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.” 
"Warhol's Death and Disasters series introduced a divergence from his brightly coloured Pop Art"
Warhol always had a keen eye for the dark side, however. As far back as 1962, his Death and Disasters series introduced a divergence from his brightly coloured Pop Art. He produced around 70 artworks—car accidents, suicides and other morbid subjects such as Big Electric Chair (1967)—inspired by a press photograph from the prison where the Rosenbergs were executed for anti-American, aka communist, activities in the 1950s. 
Perhaps the existential and unsettling choice of subjects in Warhol’s works was exacerbated by his shooting in 1968 by the radical feminist Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto. Solonas’s gripe was over Warhol’s refusal to use her script in one of his films. Warhol was physically restricted for life after the brutal attack and had to wear a brace.

Experimenting with form

Warhol’s disruptive creativity foregrounded conceptual art with an eclectic mix of art forms, using performance, filmmaking and video installations. In this opus, Warhol produced avant garde films such as Empire, Sleep, Kiss and Outer and Inner Space. Warhol was one of the most important experimental filmmakers of the New American Cinema group of the early 1960s. He was central to American experimental and underground film, a far move from the Hollywood narrative movie. He worked closely with the art-school student and poet, Gerard Malanga, and mixed with filmmakers and poets like Marie Menken, Willard Maas and Jonas Mekas. 
Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964. © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
From 1963 to 1968, Warhol produced nearly 650 films, including hundreds of Screen Tests, or portrait films. Curiously, he removed his films from the public in 1970. Eventually in 1984 Warhol placed his original film materials with MoMA and the Whitney Museum as part of the “Andy Warhol Film Project”.
"Curiously, Warhol removed his films from the public in 1970"
Using a silent 16mm Bolex, Sleep (1963) runs for nearly six hours. It belongs to Warhol’s early series of black and white films which fixes the camera on its subject. Sleep simply films the poet John Giorno sleeping in the nude. Kiss (1963), another silent film, shows lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples kissing for 50 minutes. 
Empire (1964) is an eight-hour static view of the Empire State Building. Outer and Inner Space (1965), Warhol’s first use of video, has nothing to do with constellations but shows the actress and model Edie Sedgwick in a mock interview. Sedgwick was Warhol’s key muse featuring in Poor Little Rich Girl and Vinyl (both 1965).  
Throughout his life, Warhol immersed himself in celebrity hedonism enjoying parties at Studio 53 with his close friend the fashion designer Halston who was inspired by Warhol’s Flowers (1964) painting. This celebrity journey continued when he joined the MTV bandwagon in the 1980s. Using his 15 minutes of fame quote, he hosted Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes. The quote, attributed to Warhol, was from a 1968 gallery catalogue at the Stockholm Moderna Museet: "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes." Andy Warhol’s fame has lasted considerably longer. The latest retrospective Andy Warhol Three Times Out showcases at Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin this autumn (October 6, 2023–January 28, 2024) with more than 250 works on loan from museums and private collections in the US, Canada, Europe and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (Warhol’s birthplace). Five years in the making, this is one not to be missed. 
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