Life of the Week: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, and three decades after his death, his infamous pop art continues to be celebrated today...

American artist Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987) in London in 1984. (AGIP/RDA/Getty Images)

Here, we look back at the artist’s life…

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Born: 6 August 1928, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: 22 February 1987, New York, United States

Remembered for: Being a leading artist and filmmaker of the 20th century and for pioneering the pop art movement, which opposed traditional fine art. The movement began in Britain during the mid-1950s, before becoming popular in the US.

Family: Warhol’s parents, Ondrej and Julia Warhola, were immigrants from what is present-day Slovakia. His father was a labourer and a coal miner. Warhol had two elder brothers, Paul and John.

His life: Growing up in Oakland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol first became interested in art when he was around eight years old after he contracted chorea – a rare disease that attacks the nervous system and results in involuntary movements in the limbs and face. While bedridden, Warhol found entertainment in drawing, reading and listening to the radio. After overcoming the disease he frequently visited the cinema, and became interested in photography. He began developing films in the basement of the family home.

After studying at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Warhol went on to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1945. He graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in pictorial design in 1949. Later that year, Warhol moved to New York City and began work as a commercial artist at Glamour magazine. Within a year, Warhol found additional jobs at companies such as Vogue, Tiffany & Co. and Harpers Bazaar.

Warhol’s work became increasingly popular in the 1950s, and made him one of the most prominent illustrators of the decade. He won numerous awards for his whimsical and unusual work, and he became famous for the way in which he used stamps and blotted lines to create extraordinary images.

In 1960, Warhol began creating paintings of popular consumer items, including Coca Cola and Campbell’s soup tins. In 1962, he started work on a series of pop art portraits of some of the most famous names of the day, including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley. These paintings became incredibly popular in the art world, and hundreds of people sent commissions to Warhol to create portraits of other celebrities.

In 1963, Warhol turned his attention to making experimental films. Just a year later he established his studio in New York, popularly known as ‘The Factory’, which became a popular place for actors, artists, celebrities and musicians to get together. It was here that Warhol created films such as Sleep (1963), Empire (1964), and The Chelsea Girls (1966).

In 1967, feminist writer Valerie Solanas asked Warhol to produce a script she had written. After promising to read the explicit play, Warhol alleged that he lost the script. In reality, Warhol suspected that Solanas was involved in a police trap, as some of his films had previously been closed down by the authorities for being too scandalous. After refusing to pay Solanas compensation for her mislaid work, Warhol offered her a part in his film I, A Man (1967) – Solanas accepted, and he paid her just $25 for her work.

On the afternoon of 3 June 1968, Solanas waited outside The Factory for Warhol to arrive. She then followed Warhol into the building, drew a gun and pulled the trigger three times. Two of the shots missed Warhol, but one hit and seriously wounded him.

Later that day, Solanas went to the local police station to turn herself in and confessed to shooting Warhol. At an arraignment in court, Solanas stated that she shot Warhol because: “He has a legal claim on my works… I didn’t do it for nothing. Warhol had tied me up, lock, stock, and barrel. He was going to do something to me, which would have ruined me.” She was imprisoned and diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1969.

After recovering from the gunshot, Warhol was commissioned for work in advertising and in television, and he also put on a number of popular exhibitions. Alongside this, Warhol continued to create his celebrated paintings of celebrities. He also wrote three books, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), Portraits of the Seventies (1979), and Andy Warhols Exposures (1979).

In January 1987, Warhol opened what would become his last two exhibitions. In New York he unveiled his Sewn Photos collection, which saw him take multiple copies of the same image and stitch them together. After being commissioned to recreate Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural painting The Last Supper in the mid-1980s, Warhol showcased his paintings in Milan in January 1987. Warhol used a range of colours, camouflage and commercial logos to recreate da Vinci’s masterpiece.

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Andy Warhol with his painting of the face of Liberty in 1986. (Credit: Francois Lochon/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

On 22 February 1987, following a gall bladder operation in New York, Warhol died from a post-operative cardiac arrhythmia – an abnormal heart condition – aged 58. Thousands of people gathered at a memorial service in Manhattan’s St Patrick’s Cathedral after his burial.

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In his will, Warhol asked that the entirety of his estate be dedicated to the establishment of a place designed to support upcoming artists. As a result, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was created in 1987. Plans to build The Andy Warhol Museum were announced two years after the artist’s death, and the museum opened to the public in 1994.