Andy Warhol: Biography, Paintings & Photography

Instructor: Alessandra Sulpy
Why do we associate cans of soup or boxes of steel wool pads with art? How come one of the first pictures of Marilyn Monroe to come to mind is actually many images of her colorfully painted face? You have Andy Warhol to thank for these and more famous images than you might think! In this lesson, you will learn who he was, what a few of his most famous works are, and which kinds of mediums he used in his artwork. You will also learn about what influenced his artwork.

Who Was Andy Warhol?

You've seen his work on almost everything and everywhere - t-shirts, purses, dishes, billboards, and even in the grocery store. Warhol is one of the most recognizable artists of all time, and even today his influence can be seen in both art and popular culture.... and that's exactly what he would have wanted! In essence, Warhol was an artist who was a leading figure in the pop art movement.

Andy Warhol, photographed by Jack Mitchell
Andy Warhol

Life as Andrew Warhola Jr.

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola Jr. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 6, 1928 to Slovakian immigrants. He was the youngest of three children in a hard-working, blue collar family. When Andy was in the third grade, he contracted Sydenham's chorea, also known as St. Vitus' Dance. This nervous system disease causes involuntary movement of the extremities (hands and feet), and from this illness Andy became bedridden. However, it was during the months he spent recovering that he took up collecting pictures of movie stars (an interest in popular culture that would later develop into his art), and it was also when his mother taught him to draw. When Andy was nine, he took up photography and made a rudimentary darkroom in his basement.

Andy recovered, and after graduating from high school attended the prestigious Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Upon receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in commercial art, Andy moved to New York City to pursue his art career. His early work was largely whimsical, made with blotted ink (using 2 pieces of paper, Andy would draw on one sheet and quickly blot it onto the second, creating a broken, dotted line), and he eventually became one of the most successful commercial artists in the 1950's. It was during this time he dropped the -a in Warhola, and became Andy Warhol because it was easier to say and remember.

Rise to Fame with Pop Art in the 1960's

By the late 1950's, Andy Warhol became increasingly interested in painting and screenprinting. In 1961, he helped introduce the idea of Pop Art to America, which was an art movement that began in England a few years prior. Pop Art relates to popular culture, which includes mass-marketed products like Coke, Campbells Soup, and Brillo Pads (all of which became subjects for Warhol's paintings), celebrities, and ephemera, which is a form of printed matter not meant to last very long, such as advertisements.

Warhol's popularity skyrocketed, and in 1962 he created an art studio called The Factory. This was a place where artists, muses, musicians, drag queens, actors, and many others came to work, be inspirational, or help Warhol create his large paintings and silkscreens. It was a hugely popular space that doubled as a set where Warhol made dozens of avant garde films. These films were often sexually provocative, unlike most of his paintings. Warhol was described as working 'night and day', and alongside his films made numerous paintings, silkscreens, sculptures, and photographs.

It was during the 1960's when Warhol produced some of his most iconic works, such as the 'Marilyn Diptych', 'Campbell's Soup Cans' and 'Brillo Box'.

Soup can pillars on the exterior of the Warhol Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, marking the 20th anniversary of Warhol
Warhol exhibit

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