Confined to his bed by Sydenham’s chorea for many days in grade school, Andrew Warhola Jr took his first steps in the art world while listening to the radio and drawing. When his father, Andrew Warhola Sr, passed away, he left his savings for his son to go to college, where he pursued pictorial design.
As the son of working-class, Catholic, Eastern European immigrants, Andy Warhol permanently dropped the ‘a’ from his surname to appear more “American” went entering the artistic world in young adulthood. However, Warhol’s heritage, religion, and sexuality often influenced his art as he was a rising artist during times of great social, political, and technological change.
Following his passion for art lead him into a career in magazine illustration and advertising for shoes, creating the “blotted line” technique when applying ink to paper. From his humbling beginnings, Warhol was fascinated by consumerism and the expanding global economy, resulting in many of his most famous and recognizable works like 100 Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) and Two Dollar Bills (1962).
It’s worth noting that Warhol rarely named his individual works, so one of his most famous (and my personal favourite) works does not have a title; it’s merely labelled as Marilyn Diptych (1962). When Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose in 1962, Warhol responded with one of his first famous silkscreen paintings of the celebrity using a publicity photo from her 1953 film Niagara as his source image.
Some interpret this piece as a commentary on the public and private lives of the star, who was one of the most famous women in the world at the time. However, one account explains that Warhol created both canvases and was suggested by fellow art collectors to join them together, to create a diptych, insinuating that this decision may not have been as deliberate as we like to think.
Warhol commercialized his screenprinting by mechanizing the process and including multiple people. Warhol suggested that “everybody should be a machine,” as machines don’t discriminate, and if people operated as machines, then “everybody should like everybody,” whatever their race, gender, or sexuality.
This lead to Warhol establishing his experimental art studio and social space, the Factory, to mass-produce his art and pursue his newfound interest in underground filmmaking. Warhol documented those who passed through the Factory in his Screen Tests (1964-1966) – film portraits where subjects sat in front of the camera with nothing to do but endure its gaze for the duration of the film reel.
Warhol’s filmmaking also involved his intimate and personal relationships, which is a staple in his work throughout his career. Sleep (1963) was Warhol’s first serious film depicting 22 close-ups of one of Warhol’s lovers, John Giorno, as he sleeps nude. While homosexuality was illegal during this time, Giorno suggested that making this film into an abstract painting of “the body of a man as a field of light and shadow,” Warhol would not be branded with the negative connotations of homoeroticism.
Warhol continued to push the boundaries of media through the Factory and expand on his ideas of what cinema could be, using coloured gels and strobes lights to overlay superimposed projections, ultimately reinforcing his reputation as a countercultural artist.
Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets anyway.ANDY WARHOL
Amidst the 1970s sexual revolution, Warhol produced a series featuring unnamed Black and Latinx drag queens and trans women titled Ladies and Gentleman (1975). With over 500 photographs of 14 models, Warhol created a variety of silkscreens applied to painted canvases with expressive brushwork and finger painting to explore not only gender and performance but glamour and personality.
There’s no easy way to summarize Warhol’s art – he lived an extensive and experimental artistic inspired by the greater workings of society while simultaneously shaping these aspects of the modern world. To say Warhol was a revolutionary is an understatement – he proved artists could be their own free agents, unrestricted by the boundaries of traditional beauty, subsequently proving that the individual has the means to conduct their own terms of freedom.
Attending the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Andy Warhol exhibit reawakened my longing desire to dive into experimental and abstract art. Art is whatever you make it, and I’ve always had a passion for creating art “thinking outside the box,” but also thinking without a box and transcending the socially implicated limitations of photography and art in general. While I will continue to pursue my current artistic styles, I look forward to following my Warhol-inspired ideas – stay tuned!
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.ANDY WARHOL
Photo of the Week is a weekly series that showcases and elaborates on my photography, photography from my fellow creatives, and famous photographs.