Andy Warhol is probably the most celebrated of all pop artists. His personal image is as instantly recognizable as the work he created. Warhol cultivated his own celebrity and succeeded in creating a legend.
Born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928, Warhol grew up in a working class family. He studied painting and design at Carnegie Institute and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949. He moved to New York immediately following his graduation.
Once in New York, Warhol began drawing for prestigious magazines and department stores and was immediately successful in this work. In 1957 he was awarded the Art Directors' Club Medal for his work as a commercial illustrator. His distinctive artistic style as well as his unique personal presentation contributed to his success at the time.
Despite his accomplishments, Warhol wanted recognition as a fine artist rather than a commercial one. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he created and exhibited works which did not inspire much public interest. Feeling himself at an artistic impasse, Warhol listened to the joking suggestion of a friend who told him to focus his art on everyday, familiar items or images like dollar bills, Campbell's Soup cans or even Marilyn Monroe. Warhol first drew these images freehand, then moved to silk-screen on canvas. When he exhibited these works in 1962, the show caused a sensation.
After this exhibit, Warhol rented a studio called 'The Factory' in which he and his friends mass produced the silk-screens for which he is famous. These include images of Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and the electric chair. In 1963, Warhol began making films which featured the runaways, transvestites, socialites and addicts who frequented The Factory and became part of Warhol's entourage.
By the mid-1960s, an aura of hysteria surrounded the shy yet charismatic artist. A near-riot occurred at a retrospective exhibit he held in 1965. In 1966, Warhol announced his retirement from painting. In that year, he also signed his first rock band, The Velvet Underground. In 1968, Warhol was shot by Valerie Solonas, an unbalanced woman who had appeared in one of Warhol's films. Although he survived the shooting, Warhol never fully recovered from this act of violence.
Throughout the 1970s, despite his supposed retirement, Warhol continued to paint and make films while also running 'Interview' Magazine. His reputation as a partygoer was notorious. Warhol earned an income by painting portraits of German businessmen. Despite this practical means of supporting himself, Warhol was highly regarded by the international visual arts establishment.
Until his death in 1987 after a botched gall bladder operation, Warhol never lost his passion for art. He constantly shared exhibitions and collaborated with other artists. His contribution to pop art is incomparable. The artist himself is now a pop culture icon.