Although Andy Warhol died three decades ago, he’s one of the few artists easily identifiable in a crowd — both for his art-directed physical appearance and for his art. From his Campbell’s Soup Cans, Marilyns and Electric Chairs to the hundreds of films he made and the many society portraits he painted, Andy Warhol shaped the way we remember the 1960s and ’70s.
Using photos clipped from newspapers, magazines, publicity stills and advertisements and, eventually, his own, Andy Warhol would have silkscreens fabricated and combine them with acrylic and graphite pencil, painting and drawing on a surface that he’d then print over, often repeating or mirroring an image. The grainy, smudgy black ink and his off-kilter alignment of the printed image replicated the effects of a cheap printing press, ushering in a bold new kind of realism, while the silkscreen process allowed Andy Warhol to create hundreds of variations of the same subject.
More than three decades after his death, the prolific pop artist and cultural icon’s body of work continues to captivate. Here’s a list of 10 categories of Andy Warhol’s art, (by no means an exhaustive one) of his iconic output.
Early Drawings and Commercial Illustrations
What sets Andy Warhol’s drawings apart from the other artists at the time is not only their casual charm but also their trademark blotted lines, the result of early experiments in printing influenced by the work of artist Ben Shahn. The process involved drawing an image, tracing it with wet ink or watercolour and then pressing a sheet of paper against it to create a unique reproduction.
The slightly splotchy black line that results reads as if it were produced by the inexpensive ink of a newspaper — an effect Warhol embraced the following decade with his screen-prints on canvas.
When Andy Warhol brought the image of a Campbell’s soup can out of the supermarket and into the studio, in 1961, he secured his legacy as a radical contemporary artist.
Shortly after Warhol painted the soup cans, he realized that he could more readily achieve the mass-produced aesthetic he was seeking with silkscreens, also called screen-prints, and he began experimenting with silkscreening on canvas. He used the technique to print paintings of Coke bottles and dollar bills (both in 1962), as well as his treasured Brillo box sculptures (1964).
Although Andy Warhol abandoned his career as a commercial illustrator, his appreciation for the symbols of postwar consumerism never waned. He returned to the theme in 1985 when the dealer Ronald Feldman commissioned him to create the Ads Portfolio, a set of 10 commercial images — screen-printed on museum board in an edition of 190 — including ones for Apple’s Macintosh, Paramount, the Volkswagen Beetle and Chanel No. 5. Warhol personalized them by making them look hand-drawn.
Marilyn, Liz, Jackie
Andy Warhol was quick to jump on mass media’s penchant for treating glamour and tragedy with equal weight. Marilyn Monroe’s suicidal overdose in 1962 was ideal fodder, and he reproduced her visage dozens of times, first painting the canvas with splotches of pigment to denote her hair, eyeshadow and lips, then printing the black photographic silkscreen, taken from a 1953 publicity still, on the surface, either alone, doubled or repeated in a grid. Especially powerful are the images where the screenprint is inky, smeared or off-register, revealing the ugly underbelly of Monroe’s surface glamour.
Warhol similarly appropriated images of Elizabeth Taylor (1963), who was battling severe pneumonia at the time and whose unhappy romantic relationships were the subject of intense public scrutiny; of Jackie Kennedy (1964), soon after President Kennedy was shot; and of Elvis (1963), as his career began to turn south.
Death and Disasters
From 1962 through ’65, Andy Warhol mined the news for images, appropriating press photos of grim happenings. The haunting paintings of his “Death and Disasters” series — electric chairs, car crashes, suicides, police brutality and botulism poisoning rendered in acid hues and arranged in grids — revealed a darker side of Warhol that was always there. Many collectors, dealers and curators had a hard time swallowing the pictures at the time, and he showed them only in Paris early on.
Uncannily relevant today, these works show a quiet political side of Andy Warhol that bubbled up across his oeuvre but was often overshadowed by what some perceived as shock tactics, either the artist’s own or the mass media. However, as the late curator and critic Okwui Enwezor suggested in the Whitney Museum show’s catalogue, “Warhol’s interest was not necessarily focused only on the spectacle of death, and the media’s sensationalist reports of it, but rather was engaged in an anguished reflection on his country’s condition.”
Andy Warhol’s Flowers — possibly his most recognizable Pop imagery — may seem like a big jump toward more palatable, pleasing subject matter. But as many critics have suggested, they are far more than just pretty pictures. Flowers, after all, are the ultimate symbol of fleeting beauty — and there’s more to it than that.
Legend has it that Warhol was searching for an idea for his first show with Leo Castelli when Warhol’s friend curator Henry Geldzahler suggested that he move on from morbid motifs. While flipping through an issue of Modern Photography, the pair came upon a story about Kodak’s new colour-processing system, illustrated with a series of hibiscus flowers in different hues.
As Blake Gopnik points out, Andy Warhol’s Flowers hit the scene “at exactly the moment when flower power was coming to a boutique near you,” from Marimekko fabrics to fresh young fashion. Even more important, Gopnik notes, the Flowers “cracked a high-art joke about the decorative urge that lay behind the oh-so-serious abstractions of the latest Op and Color Field painters, Warhol’s latest crop of rivals.”
Even as he appropriated many of the images from his early works from the media, Andy Warhol was building an archive of his own shots. He dragged friends and patrons — Holly Solomon, Sandy Brant and Ethel Scull — down to the photo booths in seedy Time Square boutiques and the strips of images that resulted set a course for Warhol’s obsessive seriality.
He transformed some of those photos into silkscreens. Warhol’s impulse to document every acquaintance, friend and social occasion is considered a precursor to Instagram culture. But he also left behind thousands of Polaroids of headshots taken for his 1970s society and celebrity portrait commissions.
Andy Warhol’s final show, at New York’s Robert Miller Gallery, just before his death, consisted of 90 stitched-together unique silver gelatin prints.
After an eight-year hiatus from painting, Andy Warhol returned to the medium in 1972 with the celebrity subject to top them all: Mao Zedong. The story often told is that Warhol’s Zurich dealer, Bruno Bischofberger, eager to pull the artist back into painting, suggested he tackle the most important figure of the 20th century. Flipping through a Life magazine, Warhol saw Chairman Mao described as the most famous person in the world.
In some versions, Mao appears to be wearing the kind of garish makeup seen on Marilyn or Liz, an alteration that seems ingeniously appropriate and ridiculous for a tyrant who demanded loyalty and was responsible for the disappearance of millions of Chinese citizens.
In the early 1970s, as his celebrity-infused magazine Interview was taking off, Andy Warhol found himself rubbing elbows with American and European high society. Warhol had a long history of basing portraits on found images, but for these new paintings, he took his own photographs. He would bring sitters into his now well-appointed studio or travel across the world to capture them with his Polaroid Big Shot camera. It was a clunky but portable device that suited his purpose perfectly: Used at close range, the lens flattened the image, while it’s robust flash whited out facial imperfections. Andy Warhol would build a composite image from multiple photos, produce it as a silkscreen, then print it over his painted canvases.
His patrons were a who’s who of 1970s A-listers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, David Hockney, Leo Castelli, Giovanni Agnelli, Dolly Parton, Liza Minelli and Mick Jagger.
These 1977–78 abstractions, more affectionately known as “Piss Paintings,” were a steep departure from Warhol’s silkscreens, although no less subversive. The series takes its name from the process used: a stream of urine hits a canvas freshly painted with acrylic enriched with copper, and as the uric acid oxidizes the metal in the paint, patterns in green and black emerge on the shimmery surface.
Andy Warhol did much of the “painting” with his longtime studio assistant, Ronnie Cutrone, but he also invited guests to take a shot, directing them to a canvas stretched out on the floor. The pattern produced was partially left to chance, but Warhol insisted that it required skill and was very selective about the canvases he kept in the series. They range from haunting, shadowy blotches to delicate splatters and drips.
His obvious inspiration — or the target of his subversive mockery — was Jackson Pollock, who had been lionized for his manly gestural abstraction.
Andy Warhol was already aware of Jean-Michel Basquiat when the two were formally introduced at a lunch arranged by Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger in 1982. The pair became close companions, out on the town and in the studio, with Warhol serving as a parental figure to the young Brooklyn-bred tagger turned art star and Basquiat rekindling Andy Warhol’s connection to the contemporary art scene buzzing in the East Village.
Bischofberger arranged a collaboration in 1983 among Warhol, Basquiat and the Italian painter Francesco Clemente in which they took turns working on a canvas that was passed from studio to studio. After that, Andy Warhol and Basquiat peeled off on their own and created 16 canvases together in 1984 and ’85, merging Warhol’s silkscreened and painted logo-like text and symbols with Basquiat’s spontaneous scrawlings of skulls, animals and other narrative forms. The collaborations ended abruptly after an unflattering review of their show together scared off Basquiat.
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