Andrew Warhola, American (1928-1987)

Andrew Warhola was born August 6, 1928 in Forest City, Pennsylvania. His father, Ondrej Warhola, came to America in 1912 from the Austria-Hungary Empire (now Slovakia) and sent for his wife, Julia Zavacky Warhola, in 1921. His father worked as a construction worker and later as a coal miner. The family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and during his teenage years, Andy suffered mental health issues resulting in several nervous breakdowns. He graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh in 1945 and enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), graduating in June 1949. During college, he met and befriended Philip Pearlstein, a fellow student. After graduation, Andy Warhol (having dropped the letter ‘a’ from his last name) moved to New York City, and shared an apartment with Pearlstein at St. Mark’s Place off of Avenue A for a couple months. During this time, he moved in and out of several Manhattan apartments. In New York, he met Tina Fredericks, art editor of Glamour Magazine. Warhol’s early jobs were creating drawings for Glamour, such as the Success is a Job in New York, and women’s shoes. He also drew advertising for various magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazzar, book jackets and holiday greeting cards.

During the 1950’s, he moved to an apartment on East 75th Street. His mother moved in with him and Fritizie Miller became his agent. In 1952, his first solo exhibition, Drawings to Illustrate Stories by Truman Capote ,was held at Hugo Gallery, New York. He started illustrating books beginning with Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. Circa 1953, he worked with a theater group on the Lower East Side designing sets. It was during this time that he dyed his hair his signature silver color. Warhol published several books including Twenty Five Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy. In 1956, he traveled around the world with Charles Lisanby, a television-set designer. In April of that year, he was included in his first group exhibition, Recent Drawings USA, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He began receiving accolades for his work with the 35th Annual Art Directors Club Award for Distinctive Merit, for an I. Miller shoe advertisement. He published In The Bottom of My Garden later that year. In 1957 he received the 36th Annual Art Directors Club Medal and Award of Distinctive Merit for the I.Miller show advertisements, and Life Magazine published his illustrations for an article, Crazy Golden Slippers.

In 1960, Warhol began to create his first paintings. They were based on comic strips in the likes of Dick Tracy, Popeye, Superman and two Coca-Cola bottles. In 1961, using the Dick Tracy comic strip, he designed a window display for Lord & Taylor. At this time, major art galleries around the nation began noticing his work. In 1962, Warhol created paintings of dollar bills and Campbell soup cans. His work was included in an important exhibition of pop art, The New Realists, held at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. In November of that year, Elanor Ward showed his paintings at Stable Gallery and the exhibition sparked a sensation. In 1963, he rented a studio in a firehouse on East 87th Street. He met his assistant, Gerard Malanga, and started making his first film in 1934, Tarzan and Jane Regained… Sort of. Later, he drove to Los Angeles for his second exhibition hosted at Ferus Gallery. In November of that year, he found a loft at 231 East 47th Street, which became his main studio, The Factory. In December, he began a production of Red Jackie, the first of the Jackie series. In 1964, his first solo exhibition in Europe was held at the Galerie Ileana Sonnebend in Paris, featuring his Flower series. He received a commission from architect Philip Johnson to make a mural, entitled Thirteen Most Wanted Men for the New York State Pavilion in the New York World’s Fair. In April, he received an Independent Film Award from Film Culture magazine. In November, his first solo exhibition in the US was held at Leo Castelli Gallery and at this time, he began his Self Portrait series.

In the summer of 1965, Andy Warhol met Paul Morrissey, who became his advisor and collaborator. His first solo museum exhibition was held at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. During that year, he made a surprise announcement of his retirement from painting, but it was to be short lived. He would resume painting again in 1972. It was around this time that he met Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker (collectively known as The Velvet Underground) and a German-born model turned chanteuse named Nico. He paired Nico with the Velvets and they developed a close bond with Warhol. This was an alliance that forever changed the face of world culture. Warhol produced the group’s first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, which has been called “the most influential record ever” by many critics.

In the summer of 1966, Warhol’s film Chelsea Girls became the first underground film to be shown at a commercial theater. In 1967, Chelsea Girls opened in Los Angeles and San Francisco and six of his Self Portraits were shown at Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In August of that year, he gave a lecture at various colleges in the Los Angeles area. His persona was so popular that some colleges hire Allen Midgette to impersonate him for lectures. Later, Warhol moved The Factory to 33 Union Square West, and met Fred Hughes, who later became the President of Enterprises and Interview Magazine. In 1968, Warhol’s first solo European museum exhibition was held at Moderna Musset, Stockholm. Later that year on June 3, Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas, an ultra-radical and member of the entourage surrounding Warhol. Solanis was the founder of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). Fortunately, Warhol survived the assassination attempt after spending two months in a hospital. This incident is the subject of the film, I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). Afterwards, Andy Warhol dropped out of the filmmaking business, but now and then continued his contribution to film and art. He never emotionally recovered from his brush with death.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Warhol’s status as a media icon skyrocketed and he used his influence to back many younger artists. He began publishing Interview magazine, the first issue released in the fall of 1969. In 1971, his play entitled Pork opened in London at the Round House Theatre. In 1972, he resumed painting, although his primary focus was primarily celebrity portraits. The Factory was moved to 860 Broadway and in 1975, he bought a house on Lexington Street. In 1976, a major retrospective of his work was held in Zurich, featuring the Skulls and the Hammer and Sickle series. Throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, a retrospective exhibition was held as Warhol began work on the Reversals, Retrospectives and Shadows series. The Myths series, Endangered Species series and Ads series followed through the early to the mid 1980’s. On February 22, 1987, Andy Warhol passed away at 58 years old following complications from gall bladder surgery.