Andy Warhol was born Andy Warhola on August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987. Most of Warhol ‘s childhood was spent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his Mikovian immigrant parents; Ondrej and Julia, and two older brothers, Paul and Ján. When he was 8 years old, Warhol was diagnosed with a rare disease called Sydenham's chorea, which caused young Andy to develop an overwhelming fear of doctors and hospitals. Since he was often bedridden, he would spend his time collecting pictures of movie stars and putting them on the walls surrounding his bed. He also developed a very close relationship with his mother during this time. Warhol’s father died in a mining accident when he was only 13 years old, further deepening his bond with his mother.
Warhol always loved to draw and write, and in high school he won numerous writing awards. Originally, Andy wanted to study art in Pittsburgh and become a teacher, but instead his college years were spent at the Carnegie Institute of Technology studying commercial art. Andy was very active in both dance and art clubs before earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts.
Warhol moved to New York and began his career as a commercial advertising artist. His early work was often found in popular magazines, such as Glamour and magazine, where he began to get noticed by other artists and photographers. While working in the shoe industry he developed an interest in silkscreen printmaking and began incorporating the technique into his own paintings.
“When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”
- Andy Warhol
Warhol’s first major art showing was at the Hugo Gallery in New York and then the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. As the popularity of pop art was increasing, Warhol’s art did too. His first pop art exhibition was at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery in 1962. Time, Newsweek, and Life magazine attended the event and were fascinated by his display of 32 canvases of Campbell's Soup as well as other painting of American objects like Coca-Cola. He also produced many paintings of the celebrities he had adored as a bedridden child; including Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. It was during this time that he dubbed his studio, “The Factory”, which soon became the place to be seen in New York.
Although Andy Warhol was generally loved by the public, he was criticized harshly by the art community who felt like his art was more commercial than artistic. Pop art created by Andy Warhol, Billy Apple and other prominent pop artists created the question; What defines art? Other critics felt that his working methods, screen printing and use of assistants, was impersonal and mass produced.
To further fuel his controversial persona; Warhol gathered at the Factory with an odd assortment of eccentrics, he referred to as Warhol Superstars. These Superstars included bohemian street people, drag queens, transgenders, as well as significant people in the New York underground cinema world. Warhol began making films at the Factory which only added to what most considered oddities. Warhol organized a series of multimedia events with many of his eccentric guests, called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. These events combined all of Warhol’s artistic passions; writing, dancing and video art. Many of the films he produced at the Factory featured S&M enactments, drug use, same-sex relations, graphic sexuality and transgender characters.
Valerie Solana, a radical feminist loosely associated with the Factory, attempted to murder Warhol while he was leaving the Factory with his assistant, Mario Amaya. Warhol barely survived the attack and remained in critical care after surgeons had to open his chest and massage his heart. The shooting dramatically changed Warhol both physically and mentally. Solanas quickly turned herself into the police and was sentenced to three years in prison where she was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The Factory changed dramatically as well. The heavily guarded studio eventually lost its appeal to the raucous celebrities of New York.
The shooting turned Warhol towards a quieter way of life. He began doing portraits for the rich and famous, such as Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, John Lennon and many other celebrities. He also began writing more. He co-founded a magazine with Gerard Malanga, called “Interview” and published “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”. Although he appeared to be somewhat quiet and shy, Warhol enjoyed frequenting many exclusive New York City hotspots. Although Warhol’s personal life had settled down, critics continued to bash Warhol’s art. Many claimed that his obsession with common objects was superficial and without depth. Today’s critics have realized that Andy Warhol was simply before his time. His art is now considered a realistic representation of the world during a period of time where individuality and eccentricities were frowned upon by the conservative public.
Due to his intense fear of doctors and hospitals, Warhol refused to have his recurring gallbladder problems checked out, even though there was a history of gallbladder problems in his family. Once he finally agreed to surgery, the doctors assured Warhol that the operation was very routine and predicted he would make a full recovery. Unfortunately, this was not the case. On February 22, 1987, Warhol died in New York hospital in Manhattan from postoperative complications. Although Warhol’s family sued the hospital and won; with the advancement of medicine and technology, it was later realized that his gallbladder surgery was high risk due to his gunshot wounds and his refusal to visit medical professionals. Andy Warhol was buried next to his parents, near his hometown of Pittsburgh at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park.
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