Andy WorhalAndy Warhol, the American painter, printmaker,illustrator, and film maker was born in Pittsburgh on August 6, 1928, shortlyafterwards settling in New York. The only son of immigrant, Czech parents,Andy finished high school and went on to the Carnegie Institute of Technologyin Pittsburgh, graduating in 1949 with hopes of becoming an art teacherin the public schools.
While in Pittsburgh, he worked for a departmentstore arranging window displays, and often was asked to simply look forideas in fashion magazines . While recognizing the job as a waste of time,he recalls later that the fashion magazines “gave me a sense of style andother career opportunities.” Upon graduating, Warhol moved to New Yorkand began his artistic career as a commercial artist and illustrator formagazines and newspapers. Although extremely shy and clad in old jeansand sneakers, Warhol attempted to intermingle with anyone at all who mightbe able to assist him in the art world. His portfolio secure in a brownpaper bag, Warhol introduced himself and showed his work to anyone thatcould help him out. Eventually, he got a job with Glamour magazine, doingillustrations for an article called “Success is a Job in New York,” alongwith doing a spread showing womens shoes.
Proving his reliability andskills, he acquired other such jobs, illustrating adds for Harpers Bazaar,Millers Shoes, contributing to other large corporate image-building campaigns,doing designs for the Upjohn Company, the National Broadcasting Companyand others. In these early drawings, Warhol used a device that would provebeneficial throughout his commercial art period of the 1950s-a tentative,blotted ink line produced by a simple monotype process. First he drew inblack ink on glazed, nonabsorbent paper. Then he would press the designagainst an absorbent sheet. As droplets of ink spread, gaps in the linefilled in-or didnt, in which case they created a look of spontaneity.Warhol mastered thighs method, and art directors of the 1950s found inadaptable to nearly any purpose.
This method functioned provided him witha hand-scale equivalent of a printing press, showing his interest in mechanicalreproduction that dominates much of his future work. Such techniques usedfor almost all of his works derived from his beginning in the commercialarts. His pattern of aesthetic and artistic innovation, to “expect theunexpected,” began with his advertising art in the 1950s. Much of hisfuture subject matter can be placed in the realm of such common, everydayobjects, that were focused on in these early times. Nearly all of Warholsworks relate in one way or another to the commercially mass-produced machineproduct. Hence, Warhols future artwork and techniques were greatly influencedby his rather humble beginnings. Although Warhol did receive recognitionfor much of his commercial illustrations during those times, he was constantlypursuing another career as well-that of a serious artist.
Unfortunately,Warhol was not so successful at first in obtain this goal. His delicateink drawings of shoes and cupids, among various others, had no place ina decade dominated by such heroic artists as William de Kooning and JacksonPollock.Warhol And Pop ArtPop Art emerged in the US in the early1960s, at first completely unacknowledged. During its beginning, PopArt was often seen as an insult to the roles of such artists as Pollockand de Kooning, who were leading a revival of Abstract Expressionist, “anabrupt and conspicuous dialectical reaction to a great wave of abstraction,”at mid-century. Emerging with considerable fanfare, mainly condemnation,but by 1963-64, it suddenly began being extensively exhibited, published,and consumed as a cultural phenomenon By the early 60s, Warhol becamedetermined to establish himself as a serious painter, as well as to gainthe respect of such famous artists of the time such as Jasper Johns andRobert Rauschenberg, whose work he had recently come to know and admire.He began by painting a series of pictures based on crude advertisementsand on images from comic strips.
These first such works, such as SaturdaysPopeye(1960) and Water Heater”(1960), were loosely painted in a “mock-expressive”style that mocked the gestural brushwork of Abstract Expressionism, andare among the first examples of what came to be known as Pop Art. Warholsworks during the early 60s are among those for which he is best knownfor. He reproduced advertisements and cartoons, as well as such familiarhousehold items as telephones and soup cans, often painting one image repeatedlyin a grid design. Many of these works, such as his pictures of dollar billsand soup cans, as in Cambells Soup Cans 200″(1962), show many ideas underlyingadvertising, as well as showing his interest in techniques that enabledmultiplication of an image, such as silk-screen printing, techniques thatdominated much of his work. Through these works Warhol gained his muchdesired recognition, becoming an instant celebrity, having gone from respectedcommercial illustrator to controversial and influential artist.
Such PopArt images as Warhols soup cans and Lichtensteins comic book panels jumpedfrom the vast American consumer culture into the realm of high artisticand aesthetic recognition. It is not known whether Lichtenstein or Warholwas the first to displace commercial images from the media to modernistpainting, but Warhol, of all the founding Pop artists, first and foremost,consistently “hewed to the canons of Pop technique and iconography.” Thesefirst Pop works, in their intentional exclusion of all conventional signsof personality, in their obvious rejection of innovation and their blatantvulgarity, were somewhat brutal and shocking, designed with the intentionof offending an audience “accustomed to thinking of art as an intimatemedium for conveying emotion.” Warhol further extended these concerns byusing techniques that gave his images a printed appearance, using stencils,rubber stamps, and hand-cut silkscreens, along with in his choice of subject-matter.He used the shocking images of tabloids, as in 129 Die in Jet to money,in a series of screenprinted paintings representing rows of dollar bills,and to the products of consumer society, including Coca-Cola bottles andtins of Cambells Soup.
Thus, the once struggling commercial illustratortransformed into one of the most recognized and influential artists ofthe century, considered the “progenitor of American Pop Art.”Death And DisasterIn the summer of 1962, Warhols friendHenry Geldzahler laid out a copy the Daily News while the two were havinglunch. On the cover, the headline was “129 Die in Jet.” According to Warhol,that is what began a series of paintings depicting rather gruesome imagesof human death and disaster, with subjects ranging from the personal focusof individual suicide, the banality of everyday disaster, death by legalexecution, to the historical death of political assassination, culminatingwith the most destructive instrument the world has ever known-the atombomb.
Together, these works are among the most shocking and disturbingworks of art the world has ever known. In most of these works, Warhol displaysdeath as an ever-present subject. His first silkscreened death and disasterpaintings were of suicides and especially gruesome car crashes, such asin Ambulance Disaster” and “Saturday Disaster.” the power and sufferingshown in the images stunning viewers.
Like the contaminated canned foodshown in “Tunafish Disaster,” these images appear to represent a breachof faith in the products of the Industrial Revolution by showing consumesproducts embraced by the population that backfire and cause death. Warholretained the images from clippings of newspapers, magazines, and photographs,altering them only slightly, as was his norm, to show the images as theywere, everyday occurrences the public accepts yet forgets, forcing theviewer to take them at face value. They portray “A stark, disabused, pessimisticvision of American life, produced from the knowing rearrangement of pulpmaterials by an artist who did not opt for the easier paths of irony orcondescension.” Among the most iconic Death and Disaster images in the”Electric Chair.”(1963) According to Warhol, his replication of this image,both within the single composition and from painting to painting, was intendedto “empty” the image of its meaning. The electric chair is shown fromthe front, fully visible, showing a sign reading “SILENCE,” the sign exclamatingthe emptiness of the execution chamber. The image, the chamber empty ,showing only the sign, represents death as an absence and complete silence,a complete void. This notion was characteristic of Warhol, who once said”I never understood why when you died, you didnt just vanish and everythingcould just keep going the way it was, only you just wouldnt be there,”and who often stated that he wanted a blank tombstone when he died.
Manywonder why Warhol chose such imagery to focus on, and he himself giveslittle reason. For some of these works, in which he shows images repeatedrelatively unchanged, he was attempting to lessen the shock of the viewer,recognizing such events for their face value, as everyday occurrences.”When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesnt reallyhave and effect.” As in the “Jackies,” images of the recently assassinatedPresident Kennedys grieving widow, were repeated to reinforce the obsessiveways that our thoughts keep returning to a tragedy, and “stress the flashof fame these little known(suicides) victims achieve in death. This canbe said to be consistent with Warhols claim that everyone “will be famousfor 15 minutes.” In this, does he mean by tragedy? Others claim the initialcontext for these subjects was journalistic- as an artist trained in drawingand pictorial design, he was obviously predisposed to consider the frontpage of the news and other media items in visual , artistic terms-as a”media junkie” who continually pursued and collected printed matter, hewas drawn into a network of “sensationalized intimacies with the protagonistsof the news.” Regardless, there is a tie between these images and his celebrityportraits.
Warhol took up the theme of suicide shortly after his firstmeditations on Marilyn Monroes death. While doing those works, he saidto have realized that “everything I was doing must have been death.” Thus,the idea of death was not a new one for him, and thereby his choice ofsubject matter may not have been completely random. Throughout the Deathand Disaster paintings, Warhol makes use of background color to serve variousfunctions. Mostly, throughout the series, he avoids the use of primarycolors, using mainly secondaries, such as oranges, lavenders, and pinks,the types of colors “you would expect to find in a wallpaper store.” Hisuse of background color in the Death and Disaster paintings is mostly extrinsicto the content of the images. In some, such as “Lavender Disaster,” thebackground color seems to intensify the effect of alienation created bythe realism of the visual content. In others, such as “Atomic Bomb,” thered-orange color serves a supporting role.
The images Warhol selected forthese paintings were gruesome, though he showed again his brilliant eyefor such images so effective in shocking the viewer. “With an eye for theeccentricity of an individual event, Warhols paintings capture the unpredictablechoreography of death.” Using a broad range of images, from car crashes,suicides, burn victims, funerals, riots, to the culmination with the atomicbomb, Warhol succeeded in giving the viewer what one expected of Warhol;to expect the unexpected.