Andy Warhol (1928–1987) was an American printmaker, painter, illustrator, and filmmaker. He was a major contributor to the Pop Art movement in the United States. His works explore themes of industrialization and commercialization in art, focusing on the printing process, the desensitization of the public on the account of mass media, and ideas of mass-produced art in conversation with what makes an artwork ‘authentic’ or unique.
Warhol was born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a young child, he contracted a disease called Sydenham’s chorea, which impacted his nervous system and caused involuntary movements. Confined to bed rest, he began to draw, collect images of celebrities, and listen to music which he later admitted was highly influential to his personal and artistic development. He graduated from Schenley High School in 1945, and although he had planned to enrol at the University of Pittsburgh to study art education, he wound up studying commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. In 1949, he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design and moved to New York City to begin his career as a commercial illustrator for magazines and advertisements.
In the late 1950s, he started to gain popularity after showing his work in a number of exhibitions. He began to use the silkscreen printmaking process for his paintings in the 1950s, and in the 1960s, he began incorporating celebrities, snapshots from mass media, and easily recognizable everyday objects, such as mushroom clouds, money, and soup cans, into the subject matter of his paintings. His art gained a lot of attention for its controversial use of commercial elements, such as advertising and everyday goods, which led some critics to wonder what made his work art. It was in this decade that patrons, celebrities, drag queens, intellectuals, and other influential people began visiting and gathering in his newly established studio, The Factory. In the 1960s, Warhol also founded Interview magazine and managed the rock band The Velvet Underground.
On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist writer, shot Warhol in The Factory after a script she wrote and gave to the artist had been lost and could not be returned. The attack forced Warhol to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life (among other physical after-effects).
The 1970s saw Warhol increase his production of celebrity portraits, including those of Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong, John Lennon, Diana Ross, and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran, among others. This decade was quieter for Warhol compared to the bustling state of his career in the 1960s. In 1979, the artist helped establish the New York Academy of Art with his friend Stuart Pivar.
Critiques that Warhol’s art was too commercial and superficial increased in the 1980s. This was partially due to the fact that he was focused on the value and market appeal of his works in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. At this time, Warhol was also increasing his connections with younger emerging artists affiliated with the Neo-Expressionists and Transavantgarde movements moving through Europe. On February 22, 1987, Warhol died while recovering from gallbladder surgery.
Warhol was an avid collector, and after his death, 641 boxes of his collected artifacts were donated to The Andy Warhol Museum. His own artwork has been extensively exhibited and collected around the world. In 1987, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established as required by the artist’s will.