Andy Warhol: The Pop Art King

Andy Warhol: The Pop Art king

Pop Art Movement

As the 1950’s come to a closing end, the emergence of a new art movement arises. Pop Art brings a new wave of artists that will make their mark in art history.

Following the popularity of the Abstract Expressionists during the late 1940s, which was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of color and abstract forms but also those who attacked their canvases with vigorous gestural expressionism.

Early pop Art - Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud, Sandwich, 1963

Pop Art’s reintroduction of identifiable imagery drawn from mass media and popular culture was a major shift for the direction of modernism. The subject matter became far from traditional “high art” themes of morality, mythology, and classic history. Rather, Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life. Pop art movement seeks to elevate popular culture to the level of fine art. Perhaps owing to the incorporation of commercial images, Pop Art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

Pop Art History

Born in Britain in the mid-1950s, Pop Art was the brainchild of several young subversive artists as most modern art tends to be.

Birth of Pop Art

The first application of the term Pop Art occurred during discussions among artists. They called themselves the Independent Group, which was part of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

Pop Art - Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein. Drowning Girl. 1963

Pop Art appreciates popular culture, or what we also call “material culture.” It does not critique the consequences of materialism and consumerism, but it simply recognizes its pervasive presence as a natural fact.

Pop Art, for the most part, completed the Modernism movement in the early 1970s. It also ended the Modernism movement by holding up a mirror to contemporary society.

Rise of the movement

Once the postmodernist generation looked hard and long into the mirror, self-doubt took over and the party atmosphere of Pop Art faded away. On the contrary, the Abstract Expressionists searched for trauma in the soul. In the meantime, Pop artists searched for traces of the same trauma in the mediated world of advertising, cartoons, and popular imagery at large. But it is perhaps more precise to say that Pop artists were the first to recognize that there is no unmediated access to anything, be it the soul, the natural world, or the built environment.

Robert Indiana, Love, 1967

Pop artists believed everything is inter-connected, and therefore sought to make those connections literal in their artwork. By creating paintings or sculptures of mass culture objects and media stars, the Pop Art movement aimed to blur the boundaries between “high” art and “low” culture. The concept that there is no hierarchy of culture and that art may borrow from any source has been one of its most influential characteristics.

Enthusiastic Art of imagery

 Although Pop art encompasses a wide variety of work with very different attitudes and postures, much of it is somewhat emotionally removed.

In contrast to the “hot” expression of the gestural abstraction that preceded it, Pop Art is generally “coolly” ambivalent. Whether this suggests an acceptance of the popular world or a shocking withdrawal, has been the subject of much debate.

Keith Haring, Retrospect, 1989

Pop artists seemingly embraced the post-World War II manufacturing and media boom. Some critics have cited the Pop art choice of imagery as an enthusiastic endorsement of the capitalist market. However, others have noted an element of cultural critique in the Pop artists’ elevation of the everyday to high art. By tying the commodity status of the goods represented to the status of the art object itself, Pop Art emphasizes art’s place as a commodity.

Pop artists profiles

Most Pop artists began their careers in commercial art: Ed Ruscha was also a graphic designer, and James Rosenquist started his career as a billboard painter. Andy Warhol was a highly successful magazine illustrator and graphic designer. Their background in the commercial art world trained them in the visual vocabulary of mass culture as well as the techniques to seamlessly merge the realms of high art and popular culture.

Andy Warhol Early Life

Born Andrew Warhola in a working-class suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 6th, 1928 to Slovak immigrants. Warhol showed an early interest in photography and drawing, attending free classes at Carnegie Institute. The family was Byzantine Catholic and attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. Andy Warhol has two brothers John and Paul. His father died in an accident when Andy was 13 years old.

Warhol came down with St. Vitus’ dance in third grade, an affliction of the nervous system causing involuntary movements which were a complication of scarlet fever. He was frequently bed-ridden as a child and became an outcast amongst other students. When in bed he drew a lot, listened to the radio, and collected pictures of movie stars.

Years later Warhol described the period of his sickness as very important in the development of his personality and in the forming of his skillset and preferences. During high school, Warhol took art classes there and at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art). He was somewhat of an outcast because he was quiet, and always with a sketchbook in his hands, and had shockingly pale skin and white-blond hair.

Warhol also loved to go to movies and started a collection of celebrity memorabilia, particularly autographed photos. A number of these pictures appeared in Warhol’s later artwork. Warhol graduated from high school and then went to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1945, graduating in 1949 with a major in pictorial design.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s Pop Art Style

During college, Warhol developed the blotted-line technique, which involved taping two pieces of blank paper together at an edge and then drawing in ink on one page. Before the ink dried, he pressed the two pieces of paper together. The resulting image was a picture with irregular lines that he could fill in with watercolor. Warhol moved to New York right after college and worked there for a decade as a commercial illustrator. He quickly earned a reputation in the 1950s for using his blotted-line technique in commercial advertisements.

Andy Warhol, blotted line work, Untitled

Around 1960, Warhol decided to make a name for himself in pop art, a new style of art that had begun in England in the mid-1950s. It consisted of realistic renditions of popular, everyday items. Warhol had turned away from the blotted-line technique and had decided to use paint and canvas, but he was having trouble deciding what to paint.

Green Coca Cola Bottles - Pop Art
Andy Warhol, Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962

Warhol began with Coke bottles and comic strips, but his work wasn’t getting the attention he wanted.

In December 1961, a friend gave Warhol an idea: he should paint what he liked most in the world, perhaps something such as money or a can of soup. Warhol painted both. Warhol’s first exhibition in an art gallery came in 1962 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. He displayed his canvases of Campbell’s soup, one for each of the 32 types of soup made by the company. He sold all the paintings as a set for $1,000. Before long, Warhol’s work became popular all over the world and he was in the vanguard of the new pop art movement.

Pop art - Campbell's Soup
Warhol, Campbell’s Soup, 1962

Warhol’s Notable Pop Art Works

In addition to painting and creating box sculptures such as Brillo Box and Heinz Box, Warhol began working in other mediums including record producing like The Velvet Underground, magazine publishing like Interview and filmmaking.

Pop Art - Velvet Underground & Nico Album cover - Warhol
The Velvet Underground and Nico Studio Album, 1967

Warhol’s avant-garde movies

His avant-garde films such as Chelsea Girls, Blow Job and Empire have become classics of the underground genre. Critics attacked Artists like Warhol for “capitulating” to consumerism. Valuing his early paintings above all, they have ignored the activities that absorbed his attention in later years. Warhol expressed a huge interest in parties, collecting, publishing, and painting commissioned portraits. Yet some have begun to think that all these ventures make up Warhol’s most important legacy. in fact, they prefigure the diverse interests, activities, and interventions that occupy artists today.

Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture. This symposium set the tone for Warhol’s reception though throughout the decade. Finally, it became more and more clear that Warhol was at the center of profound change in the culture of the art world.

Fine Art and Commercial Art

The quintessence of Andy Warhol’s skill was his ability to remove the difference between fine arts and the commercial arts. His work appeared in magazine illustrations, comic books, record albums or advertising campaigns.

In minimizing the role of his own hand in the production of his work, Warhol sparked a revolution in art thinking. As a result, his work quickly became very controversial and more popular.

In the 1970’s, Warhol renewed his focus on painting and worked extensively on a commissioned basis. He did it both for corporations and for individuals whose portrait he painted. Works created in this decade include Skulls, Hammer and Sickles, Torsos, Maos and Shadows.

Pop Art - Jimmy Carter's Presidential campaign - Warhol
Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Campaign, 1976

Firmly established as a major 20th-century artist and international celebrity, Warhol was given a major retrospective of his work at the Pasadena Art Museum which traveled to museums around the world.

Warhol had a re-emergence of critical and financial success in the 1980s. This success is partially due to his affiliation and friendships with a number of prolific younger artists. They were dominating the “bull market” of New York art. Among them we count Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, David Salle and the so-called Neo-Expressionists. He was also a friend of Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi and members of the Transavanguardia movement, which had become influential.

Haring, Warhol and Basquiat

Following routine gall bladder surgery, Andy Warhol died of complications during his recovery on February 22nd, 1987.

Forever King of Pop Art

Andy Warhol is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and American Pop Art movement. Warhol will forever be famous worldwide for his Pop Art paintings and screen printings.

He was a diverse figure known for friendships with bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats.

Pop Art - Gun by Warhol
Warhol, Gun, 1981

Andy Warhol lived a colorful life that fit perfectly with his art, for these reasons and others. He was well-rounded and an indistinguishably fascinating human. His controversial figure because of the nature of his works, his near-fatal shooting, and his sex life brought him fame and today he is the King of Pop Art.

Written by Karen Pasos.

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