Never before have I encountered more intriguing works of art than those done by Andy Warhol. I have been curious about his life ever since I saw his work in Milwaukee. I saw his famous work of the Campbell’s Soup Can. By viewing this, one can tell he is not your average artist. I’m sure his life is full of interesting events that shaped him into who he was. As an artist myself, I would like to get to know the background of his life. I may then be able to appreciate his styles and understand why and how his works were created. His life is as interesting as his artistic masterpieces.
Andrew Warhola (his original name) was born one of three sons of Czech immigrants, somewhere in Pennsylvania on either August 6, 1928 or on September 28, 1930 (the date on his birth certificate). His father died when Andy was at a very young age. Thus, it forced Andy into a deep depression containing lack of self confidence. Much of his young life has been kept secret. However, he did report being very shy and depressed because he never felt comfortable with his homosexuality. His childhood life may have been full of the torture that children threw at him for being the different person he was. He was able to attend college. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in pictorial design from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949, he went to New York City with Philip Pearlstein, who was a fellow student that later became a well-known realist painter. In 1960, Warhol finally began to paint in earnest and to view art seriously as a career. He began his career with commercial drawings of women’s shoes. In 1961, an early manifestation was his Dick Tracy, an enlarged version of the comic strip that was placed in the window of Lord & Taylor’s department store. He followed in his own footsteps to keep going in the ever-so-famous “pop art” track. Warhol’s use of images are so close to the images themselves, thanks to the photographic silkscreen technique, which is a process of applying the same image over and over again without changing the original. In 1963, he began turning film into his next aesthetic. He was the recorder of the world around him. Warhol saw this world as populated by hustlers of various sorts, motivated largely by money and the goods it would buy. Later that next year, he started to experiment in underground film. In the late 70’s he began to use sex and nudity to gain attention in his films. Whether this was moral or not; it did, however, work. The rest of his short life was spent visiting with celebrities and keeping up with the world’s times. He tried to understand how the rest of the world saw things, but just never got there. Sadly, Warhol died of a heart failure on March 9, 1987, still wearing his famous blond hair wig.
Andy’s diaries are not actual written records of his day to day accounts, but they are audio recordings of his phone conversations to Pat Hackett every Monday through Friday (from Wednesday, November 24, 1976 to Tuesday, February 17, 1987, just weeks before his death). Warhol originally intended these daily records to be documentation of his minor “business” expenses. He was just audited and felt the need to be extra careful. “In a word it was a diary. But whatever its broader objective, its narrow one, to satisfy tax auditors, was always on my mind” (Warhol xvi). Later on, he felt the diaries were a great way to explain his everyday occurrences for more than a decade of his life. This view of his life from his eyes is probably the most balanced view ever given. He may have changed since the 60’s, but it is still the truest representation of Andy, himself. He never expressed the key happenings of his life; it’s as if we, the readers, already knew them. He just usually mentions the quick everyday type things such as a cab ride to uptown New York.
The first major influence on Andy Warhol’s life was the stepping stone of his artistic career, his enrollment in and completion of Carnegie Institute of Technology with a bachelor degree in pictorial design. After graduating he moved out to New York City, where his life blossomed. He lived for a couple of years with Philip Pearlstein, who he had met at school. Warhol, with his education centered around design, set out to begin his career on the right foot. He started doing drawings for advertisements in a women’s shoe catalog. It may not have been much to brag about, but it was at least something he could learn and gain from the experience given to him. Andy may have acquired his use of media exploited images through his beginning attempts at commercialism. He knew what sold to society, whether he agreed with it or not. He continued on with simplified pop art and he made it famous. He is the person most people think about when pop art is mentioned. Through his advertising projects, he was conditioned to think only in glorification of people, products, and style. One of his popular works, the silkscreen of the Campbell’s Soup Can, is an example of this. It is an image that everyone is familiar with, and it is so common that sometimes it is overlooked. Many times, Andy took something simple and glorified it. This is how he made his designing skills useful in promotion. “One would compare Warhol to the pictorial hyper-realism of Norman Rockwell, and to the surrealism of Marcel Duchamp, and the radicalism of Jasper Johns” (Sagan 1).
A second major influence in Andy Warhol’s life is his participation in the underground film scene. It started in 1963, when he called himself “the recorder of society around him” (Moritz 590). He would find people for his movies in a club-type warehouse called Max’s Kansas City. Every night, celebrities of art, fashion, music, and underground film-making crowds gathered in the back corners of Max’s to try their chance at working with Warhol. In 1968, he was nearly killed by a woman who was in one of his short films. She shot him on the side of his chest, but fortunately he was not killed. He still continued to make films; such famous ones are “Eat,” “Haircut,” “Sleep,” “Kiss,” and “Empire.” He would make them boring on purpose to possibly prove a point. Again it was glorifying something thought of as being extremely pointless. In the late 70’s he began to use sex and nudity, featuring films concerning sexual bondage. He may have been simply looking for a shock value content. Many artists work off shock value, it takes only the true to admit it and still continue with it.
The last and most important influence on Warhol was his mother, Julia Warhola. When Andy first arrived in New York, he would share apartments with friends and acquaintances. Eventually he could afford a place of his own. Then his mother suddenly arrived in town and moved in with him. Her reason was to look after him. She would constantly keep an eye out for a wife for Andy. Little did she know he was interested in the opposite sex for marriage. Andy appreciated his mother, and never wanted to explain how she had an impact on him. Maybe it was the fact that she meant well, and tried her hardest to take care of him. She lived with him on 89th Street and Lexington Avenue until 1971. By then, suffering from senility, she required constant care and Andy sent her back to Pittsburgh to be cared for by his two brothers, John and Paul. After suffering a stroke, she died in her nursing home in 1972. Andy did not except the fact too kindly. He would even go as far to say his mother was doing fine, when people would ask about her, even though she had already passed away. Andy stayed quiet and tried to hide himself from the rest of society. He would avoid emotional interaction as much as he could. He did this so he could “shrink away from human touch” (Moritz 591). A man who started his life shy and uncomfortable, blossomed into an outspoken artist, now finished his life with feelings even worse than the beginning of his life.
After extensive research I found that Andy had much more to his life than I had originally expected. He was involved in the classic rock band The Velvet Underground, with famous singer Lou Reed. He actually even designed a few of the album covers. Most people remember the self-entitled album with the picture of a banana on it. Directly to the left of the banana read the words “peel me.” If one would peel it, it would reveal the pink insides of a banana. Truly a work of Andy, I must say. Another thing I found was that Andy was not only homosexual, but he was “omnisexual.” It was rumored he had no problem with sex with anyone or anything. Men, women, animals, you name it, it was probably thought of. And last of all I found he was unusually kind and appreciative to others, especially the ones who worked for him. Pat Hackett, his editor, once said that she has never met a person who says “thank you” as much as Andy does.
Not once have I been more informed on a person’s life. In the beginning I thought I knew a lot about. This research on Andy Warhol definitely reinforced my positive view of him. It may have possibly enhanced my appreciation for him as well. I enjoyed the honesty of the entire diary. Nothing was hidden from the reader and I felt as informed as a good friend of his would feel. His life is an interesting one and I believe more people should try to investigate other lives of the unusual. It expands your own viewpoints to accept those of others.
Many critics have different viewpoints on Warhol’s autobiography. He was still appreciated by those who understood his ideas. “But he had to have had some sense of history, or he wouldn’t have left the diaries behind to try to explain everything to future generations” (Plagens 1732). Some realize that the diaries are rather boring, but seem to see the true Andy come through in the entries. “Despite their virtuoso triviality, their naive snobbery and their incredible length, the diaries are not without a certain charm” (Amis 1732). Others saw the diaries as a simplistic record of events. “His diaries are more or less just records of who went where and did what with whom, that anybody else who’d been along could have kept” (Plagens 1732). It’s too bad he didn’t start the diaries earlier in his life, such as the 60’s, “when it would have been more interesting to know what he did and whom he was with, instead of waiting until 1976 to begin” (Plagens 1732). Some even complained of the editing job done by Pat Hackett. “One problem with the diaries is their postmodern polish, such as the casual proofreading and editing” (Trebay 1732). The reason the editor didn’t fit up to par was the mere fact she wanted it to sound how Andy explained the day. “…still the book is great social history with its lip-smacking tales of loveless, sexless marriages, its gimlet-eyed view of other people’s success, and its rampant unclosetings” (Trebay 1732). I, myself, found the book very entertaining and a great nonchalant look at the famous and their everyday lives. It may have been organized better and condensed a bit, but none-the-less it was still interesting and kept me reading