Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants. After settling in the Pittsburg, the Warholas moved into a small row house located on Orr Street. Like other families in the community, Andrej Warhola worked numerous jobs to support his wife Julia and their sons. These jobs were in the mills and factories that made up the industrial landscape of Depression-era Pittsburg.
At home, Andrej and Julia maintained the traditions of their native country by speaking Slovak, attending the weekly Eastern rite mass, which was said in Church Slavonic, at a nearby Byzantine Christian church, and living amongst other Central European immigrants.
During his childhood, Andy was diagnosed with Saint Vitus’s Dance; an illness that effects the central nervous system. This resulted in Andy becoming bedridden and carefully cared for by his mother. To entertain her son, Julia provided Andy with coloring books—his first introduction to art. By the time Andy was ten years old, he was drawing portraits of people on the streets of Pittsburg for pocket money. Andy and his brothers also sought out entertainment like average adolescents—listening to radio, reading magazines, comics, and newspapers, and going to the movies. These activities resulted in Andy becoming fascinated with American popular culture and its celebrities.
In 1942, Andrej contracted tuberculosis. Before his death, he declared that the family’s life savings, which amounted to $1500, would be used towards Andy’s college education. From 1945 until 1949, he studied pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute of Design with the hopes of becoming a commercial artist.
After graduating, a twenty-one year old Andy moved to New York City and began working as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines. Within a week, he had made his debut in Glamour and he quickly became one of the most sought after commercial illustrators and changed his name from Warhola to Warhol. Many
believe that his success was achieved for his unique blotted line technique where he would create a pencil drawing, trace it with ink, and then press the drawing onto a fresh sheet of paper.
Beginning in 1960, Warhol began to focus on establishing himself as a painter and desired to be taken seriously as a fine artist. He began by creating works based on advertisements and comic strips. These works, however, were rejected for their vulgarity. Warhol continued to refine his skill and by 1962 almost all of his paintings were made exclusively by screen-printing photographic images of money, consumer products, and news clippings onto painted backgrounds.
Many of these works were produced with the help of assistants in his studio, which was aptly named The Factory. By removing himself from the process and by using repeated images, Warhol challenged the concept of unique, one-of-a-kind art. Critics argued that his machine-like process and repetition of celebrity portraits, Campbell’s soup cans, Coco-Cola bottles, and disaster scenes made the works meaningless.
While visiting Paris in 1965, Warhol decided to retire from painting. In the subsequent years, his focus switched to experimental films, multimedia events, producing The Velvet Underground, and launching Interview magazine. In 1968, Warhol began to distance himself from the eccentric characters that formed his entourage and made up the social scene of The Factory. Instead, Warhol began forging relationships with wealthy and fashionable members of society after Valerie Solanas made an attempt on his life.
In the 1970s, Warhol primarily created commissioned portraits from Polaroid photos and his series, Oxidation Paintings. As the next decade approached, Warhol began collaborating with younger artists, Francesco Clemente and Jean-Michel Basquait marking his first return to painting-by-hand since the mid-sixties. The last works produced by Warhol included images based on the works of Renaissance masters.