Article abstract: More than any other artist of his time, Warhol created the world of American Pop Art. His many paintings and sculptures reflect the commercialism, affluence, and materialism of postwar American society, serving both as legitimate works of art and as artifacts of an era in America’s development as a consumerist nation.
Andy Warhol’s birth date and place are something of a mystery. Warhol (born Andrew Warhola) provides no information on the matter, so any definitive statement is dubious. Based on his early years and college dates, one can estimate that he was born in 1928 in Pennsylvania, to Czech immigrant parents, Ondrej and Julia Warhola, the second of their three sons. Ondrej Warhola worked for a coal-mining company, a job that often took him from home as he traveled to various mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Warhol’s interest in commercial art began when he spent his summers as a youngster in Pennsylvania copying newspaper and magazine advertisements; he pursued that interest throughout his high school and college years. He was graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh in 1945 and worked in the summers for the Joseph Horne Company department-store chain in Pittsburgh, arranging window displays. In the autumn of 1945, he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology; the rigor of his academic courses there made college difficult for him but he met that challenge and was graduated from the school with a bachelor of fine arts degree in pictorial design in June of 1949.
With his college art degree in hand, Warhol hoped to find a position as an art teacher. During the summer of 1949, he moved to New York City to establish himself, an excellent draftsman, as a commercial artist. His style at that time was heavily influenced by fashion magazines, and his early commissions were illustrations for an article in Glamour and for women’s shoe advertisements. Early in his career, Warhol lived among other artists who were also seeking a profession in New York and matured in that environment of avant-garde art.
By the early 1950’s, Warhol gained some standing and success as a commercial artist. I. Miller Shoes chose him as the chief illustrator for their advertisements, and Warhol gained popularity in New York, becoming a very successful, well-paid artist. In addition to advertisements, he received commissions for book illustrations and jackets, for corporate designs, for magazine covers and illustrations, and for record-album covers. As his work became well-known, he won several design awards for his commercial art, including the Art Directors Club Medal. He invited himself along when a close friend took a tour around the world in 1956. That experience deepened Warhol’s sources of ideas for his art and helped him to realize the uniqueness of America in the world.
At the same time that he was producing successful commercial art for advertisements and various publications, Warhol tried to exhibit and sell drawings and paintings which he viewed as serious art. Basically shy and quiet, Warhol shared his art with only a few close friends. These works used cartoon or comic-book figures as their subjects. His style at the time was mixed; some works reflected an abstract expressionist influence; others had hard edges, clear figures, and clean lines. To knowledgeable observers and art critics, the former style seemed trite and derivative and the latter seemed fresh and exciting. Warhol took the advice of others and concentrated on the new style as he and a few other New York artists developed the American Pop Art school in the late 1950’s.
Warhol stands foremost among American Pop artists. Although he was not the originator of Pop Art or the only Pop artist in the early 1960’s, he is the archetypical Pop artist for many Americans. Part of Warhol’s fame is a result of his outrageous behavior and part is a result of his superb and innovative art. His career has included achievements as a painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and celebrity. In each of these areas, he captured the spirit of affluent, postwar American society.
Warhol’s first notoriety came with a show of his soup-can paintings in Los Angeles in 1961-1962. Along with Roy Lichtenstein, he established the American Pop Art world with canvases depicting ordinary objects such as soup cans or comic-book characters. By the fall of 1962, Warhol was noticed enough by the art community to warrant a gallery show in New York City; this show, too, displayed paintings of Campbell’s soup cans. His Campbell’s Soup Can (1962) represented an advanced consumer-oriented technological society in the way that eighteenth century Dutch still lifes represented commonplace scenes of that era. Art critics were intrigued by Warhol’s clear, clean, and superficial works, almost as laconic and unpretentious as their creator. Warhol’s silk-screen technique of reproducing the images on his...
(The entire section is 2050 words.)