Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Remember Him?

     He was born in Pittsburgh in August 1928. He did not have an easy childhood. His parents had immigrated from Ukraine -- his father in 1914 and his mother following later in 1921 -- and his father worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines. The family lived in a rowhouse in a working class section of the city.

     As a child he apparently contracted scarlet fever, which caused his skin to be blotchy for the rest of his life. He subsequently suffered a bout of Sydenham's chorea, also known as St. Vitus Dance, a disease that causes involuntary movements in the arms and legs. He had to stay home for extended periods of time, and while sitting there alone, he drew pictures and designs, and he listened to the radio and collected pictures of movie stars.

The Pittsburgh museum
     It's no surprise, then, that he was an outcast at school. And after his father died, when he was 13, he developed a strong bond with his mother -- he lived with her on and off, even as an adult after he became rich and famous.

     He graduated from high school in 1945 and went to Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie Mellon University) where he studied commercial art and was art director of the student magazine.

     After college he headed to New York, where he began a career as a designer for advertising and magazines. He was recognized for his whimsical ink drawings of shoes, and then he began designing promotional materials and album covers for various recording companies. He experimented in a number of different media, including printmaking techniques and silkscreens, often intentionally leaving mistakes or stray marks in his final works.

     He began to exhibit his paintings in galleries in New York and then Los Angeles. The artwork focused on everyday items and even commercial products, including Coke bottles, dollar bills, and also more controversial items such as electric chairs, mushroom-shaped clouds and police dogs. Then he went on to do portraits of celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Muhammad Ali.

     Are you beginning to sense who this fellow was?

     In the early 1960s he founded his studio called The Factory, where he gathered together a loose group of avant-garde artists, including sculptors, filmmakers, actors, as well as writers like Truman Capote and Allen Ginsberg and musicians like Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. The Factory also attracted assorted counterculture eccentrics, and became known as a place where people experimented with mind-altering drugs.

     He helped found and briefly managed a rock group called The Velvet Underground. He made a number of experimental films, including Kiss, a 50-minute silent movie showing nothing but people kissing. Sleep was a six hour film showing a friend of his sleeping, and Eat focused on another friend consuming a mushroom for 45 minutes. He also made a few slightly more mainstream movies such as a take on a Batman film and an adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, as well as several more sexually explicit films including homoerotic films that played in New York porn theaters.

     Yet his most famous and prolific work came in painting, as he developed a reputation as the Pope of Pop. We're all familiar with his rendering of a Campbell's soup can, for example, and a banana, as well as his flowers, cats and ice-cream cones. He also did many self-portraits as well as memorable paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mao Zedong, Queen Elizabeth.

A PBS documentary on Warhol
     Andy Warhol was controversial from beginning to end; yet he remained a practicing Catholic and went to church for most of his life. In 1968, a radical feminist who favored doing away with all men shot Warhol at The Factory. Warhol was severely wounded and underwent emergency open-heart surgery. He suffered after-effects of his injuries for the rest of his life.

     After the shooting, security at The Factory was tightened and some said The Factory '60s were over. But Warhol kept on working, painting pictures, making movies, and starting the magazine Interview which featured long conversations with celebrities, musicians and artists.

     Warhol received his share of criticism from both traditional art critics as well as those who thought he was too commercial, too focused on celebrity ... and made too much money. But his legacy today is secure, as his works are displayed in top museums including the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art and other venues around the world. He is also remembered for his famous 15-minutes-of-fame pronouncement: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

     Warhol died in 1987 of cardiac arrhythmia after gallbladder surgery. He was 58 years old. Today he is remembered not only for his artwork, but also in books and movies -- including the "revelation" in Men in Black 3 that he was an undercover MIB agent. In 2002 the U.S. Postal Service comemmorated a stamp in his honor. And today the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the largest museum in the world devoted to a single artist.


Barbara said...

Very nice share. Andy Warhol is one of those I love to hate. To intriguing to hate, to unusual to love. I enjoyed hearing more about him.

Olga Hebert said...

I must have been living under a rock because I missed this one entirely. Interestingly. I share his Ukrainian heritage and having had a father who worked int he coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Stephen Hayes said...

I understand and appreciate his work, but I don't love it.

DJan said...

I knew who he was when you started talking about his artistic renderings of usual objects. I didn't know he was so young when he died. Of course, as I get older, "young" becomes a moving target. :-)

joared said...

Frankly, I was never that enamored with him or his creations during his lifetime. I did find reading about his life as you wrote it here to be interesting. I grudgingly recognize some of his talents especially in light of his life challenges.

Tom Sightings said...

My approach to Remember Him?/Remember Her? is not necessarily to profile people we loved or admired, but people who had an impact on our lives, people we remember. I can't say I loved Andy Warhol either; but he did have an impact on the culture, and we do remember him ... and, sure, he was over the top sometimes, but he wasn't a bad guy.

Wisewebwoman said...

I am so pleased. I guess at the end of your second paragraph. I knew he collected film pictures as I did too, bonded with Andy. LOL.


Douglas said...

I guessed him about the beginning of the fourth paragraph. The Velvet Underground was popular in my most active years (my early 20's). I still recall a weird dude in a record shop asking me if the album he was holding included "Heroin", he did not know the name of the song but chanted the refrain about "waiting for my man" and I knew which one he meant. I have several Velvet Underground songs on my hard drive and on the flash drive I use in my car.

Anonymous said...

Well he certainly had a difficult time, but managed to turn around adversity. Good for him. However, I NEVER liked his work. And I didn't like Norman Mailer either (he used Warhol's Marilyn on the eponymous book jacket cover). Perhaps I am too much of a feminist?

Anonymous said...

I had a pair of campbells tomato soup can pants red and white I got for $3.00 from Campbells soup, they were comfy and I wished I would have kept them..My aunt who is an antique and stamp and coin authority gave me note cards with his images, I never used them and have them boxed up, I will sell them when we need some money for probably a lot as his things are highly desired..I always thought he was a tormented person after reading about his life now I know why, some artists really do live tormented lives...happy Hanukkah tomorrow night December 6 2015 for 8 days!