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Andy Warhol Documentary

How did the 1960’s era influence Andy Warhol’s artwork?

Pop art is now most associated with the work of New York artist of the early 1960s such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg. To elevate popular culture, Pop Artist celebrated objects and people of everyday. Warhol was thought to be the leading strategist of Pop Art, the artist as a projectionist. Everything is part of his continued attempt to express the machine, the artist himself has become the “end product”.  He took images and objects such as common household items and dominance of advertising; hype of celebrity culture, look and tactility of comic books, and mass-media imagery from television, magazines, and newspapers. Warhol, much like other Pop Artists during this era, often used forms of mechanical reproduction that downplayed the idea of originality or the individual mark of the artist. The Pop Art style sought to test the boundaries between art and life. Pop Art celebrated the new developments of commodity obsession with surfaces, images, products, gadgets, glamour, and celebrity. Warhol’s paintings from the early 1960s were important in pioneering these developments, such as Soup Cans (1961-62), One Dollar (1962), Sixteen Jackies (1964), and even the darker side of things (i.e. the Electric Chair (1964)).

During the year of 1964, Warhol discovered a warehouse he called The Silver Factory located at 231 East 47th Street on the 5th floor. Everything that could be painted on was covered in silver, from the bricks, to pipes, even the freight elevator. The Silver Factory was not just an artist studio, but rather admired as a secret clubhouse or laboratory.

The Silver Factory was a place where you would find an assembly line of silk screens for  reproducing identical images, filmmaking or a combination of both. “Andy turned being a tabula rasa into an all-reflecting surface production. His grace came from being non-judgmental. The anything-goes liberation ethos of the 1960s needed a trigger like him to release people’s inhibitions, trespass conventions, and make unusual things happen.”  Warhol’s ability to draw people and get them to perform by doing nothing or appearing as so, made them fabulous. His vision had their five minutes of fame, and longed for Warhol’s attention, in hope of being discovered.  For Warhol relished the mask of anonymity and could conceptually create a real story rather than what you would read in newspapers. Andy Warhol suppressed his own feelings, this came naturally to him. This detached nature gives his work an objective manner. His method using silk screen printing completely removes his hands from his paintings and is more akin to what he was trying to achieve at the Silver Factory where he directed assistants to be part of the production.  Warhol chose images to scale and shape larger than life itself, sent them off to be processed and produced work that we reflect and that impact us till this day.  The process is the commodity in itself, especially during this decade.

One of the ways Pop Art challenged traditional art was by equating the mass-produced imagery of advertising with fine art. Attracted by the simple, graphic directness of consumer packaging and advertising, Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol took product labels and logos out of a commercial context and displayed them as art. In 1964, he made sculptures identical to Campbell’s soup cans, Brillo boxes, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Mott’s Apple Juice, Heinz Ketchup, and Del Monte Vegetables, and displayed them as three dimensional paintings.  For Warhol the market was like walking through a gallery in itself.  Warhol recognized that for the first time in history, man is able to satisfy his hunger with food untouched by human hands, machine food. Each work of art that focuses on food presents us with images which showcase the importance of the machine in our lives – art untouched by human hands.  Although it may seem elementary subject matter, it’s genius,  addictive and hard to escape.

Aiming to employ images of popular as opposed to elitist culture, Pop Art embraced the kitsch associated with consumerism, mocked brand loyalty and its implicit promise of happiness. In the early 1960’s, Warhol grew frantic, as though he was a failure to society, whereas he was actually ahead of his time. Warhol, too little to his knowledge nowadays was peeking the understanding of graphic arts. For Warhol at this time period, he thought of himself as  struggling artist and longed to have a one man show in New York. For Warhol this was an accomplishment and a means to weed his way to fame in the world.  To a local Los Angeles dealer , down the street from the Ferus Gallery, Warhol’s exhibition was blusterous so he ridiculed the artist by showcasing in his window display a stack of soup cans with a sign that said: “Get the real thing for 29 Cents”.  Little to his ego and misunderstated futuristic understanding, these very soup cans made Warhol’s world he renounced famous. Just to cap this one off; the reason Warhol painted those soup cans to begin with was because it reminded him of his childhood, which he ate everyday. He was always practical as a front, but deep down he had a deeper meaning in his work and this is why he is so powerful.

What made Warhol famous was his breakthrough in 1962 solo show at the Stable Gallery.  He met the owner of the gallery, Eleanor Ward, with his friend Emile de Antonio (De).  De pressed the owner if she would give Warhol a chance to show at her gallery.  As a response she pulled out of her wallet a dollar bill and asked Warhol to paint it and she would give him a show.  In 1962, Warhol produced the painting of One Dollar with Pencil on paper, and the response was immediate and powerful.  

A great example of mechanical reproduction that downplayed the idea of originality is Warhol’s painting of Red Elvis , 1962, Acrylic and silkscreen on linen canvas. It consist of a portrait of Elvis’ face repeated thirty-six times into one image as a whole.  To repeated images in this way, the viewer sees his sexy expression like a thinnest of mask, leaving grayish patches in place and of the sharp black on red effect, and as a single form. Sooner or later we become conscious of how freely the images of the media manipulate us.

In 1964 Warhol created Sixteen Jackies, acrylic, Enamel on canvas in response to the November assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Warhol’s fascination with American icons and celebrities, mass media, the dissemination of imagery, and his preoccupation with death is greatly expressed. The great paradox of Warhol’s work is the reflection of popular imagination that the culture and media were beginning to manifest. Warhol’s repetition of silkscreened photographs of the news and media hype of the First Lady also compensates for their emotional impact and echoes their daily invasion on the national psyche.  Her image remains powerful as a reminder of the nation’s golden years. It also underlines the unresolved mystery behind JFK’s assassination that continues to haunt us years later.  In addition to the Jackies Paintings he also created a piece called Flash, 1968, of President John Kennedy, which focuses on the newspaper coverage of his death as well as his seal of office. The image realm that Warhol creates unifies a pervasive silence. It is the deathly stillness that settles over a subject when it becomes a spectacle.  For Warhol there’s a blur between the wanted criminals and those movie actors who, in a different way, are also very much desired due to the media hype. For example in his Painting “Orange Car Crash, 1963,  there are ten images of an accident repeating and next to it is a blank panel to represent silence equaling blankness.  There’s also the painting Red Race Riot, 1963, which presents photographs of black protesters being attacked by dogs and white policemen.  Although the subject matter is shocking and informative, we as viewers are repulsed and attracted to its beauty at the same time.   Warhol is simply testing the boundaries between art and life.  What bothered Warhol most was not the assassination of Kennedy, but rather the authoritative manipulation of the media programming everybody to be sad.

The most compelling moment for Warhol must have been the exhibition at the Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick (Featured in Vogue at the time) were the art exhibition.  No one cared that the paintings were off the walls.  The people screamed and wanted autographs.  This is a great example that the sixties were really about people, not about what they did.

Following the exhibition in Philadelphia, Warhol displayed Silver Pillows, 1966, foil-covered plastic envelopes inflated with helium and boxes stacked like cartons of groceries at the Castelli gallery.  For Warhol this show was a reflection of his feeling that his art career and paintings were leaving the walls and as such floating away.  For everyone else this exhibition was a remainder of the spaced-out-sixties mentality. Again for Andy it was like death.  

In 1967 six of Warhol’s Self Portraits appeared in the United States Pavilion at Expo ‘67 in Montreal.  They chose these works to display “Creative America” and the link between the world of consumer products, high art, and the banalities of movie stars and rock singers.  Pop Art was suddenly taken seriously by major museums and educational institutions. Although Warhol’s previous exhibition of Silver Pillows and emotional expression behind it, his paintings provide a transition from consumer culture to high art.  They also make us question the use of images, especially images of ourselves.   

During the summer of 1968, radical feminist and founder for S.C.U.M (Society for Cutting Up Men, 1967)  Valerie Solanas,  shot Andy Warhol in his Manhattan studio.  Though he was initially being pronounced dead, Warhol Survived. Solanas shot him was because she felt outraged and rejected by Warhol who lost his copy of her play.  Solanas was sentenced to three years in prison and later diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Warhol spent two months in recovery to repair his lungs, esophagus, spleen, liver and stomach. His injuries were so severe that he had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. The really bizarre part of all this is Warhol’s fear of hospitals and feeling as though he was really alive.  He also was afraid he would lose his creativity upon his return to the Silver Factory.  For Warhol his inspiration came from the crazy, druggy people that surrounded him in his work space.  During the last year and a half of the 1960s he spent in a state of suspicion.  

In 1969 Warhol posed for photographer Richard Avedon.  Avedon’s photograph exposes Warhol’s wounds and revealing his torso bared wearing his surgical corset.  Warhol himself was an object, almost a still life.  For Warhol he was a public display and showcase of violence of the 1960s.

Warhol he sees without reflecting and reproduces without understanding.  “We are left with an image-nothing more. Warhol’s is the art of the machine but not, it should be made clear, a glorification of it, such as attempted by the futurist.”   Today we continue reflect on Warhol’s images throughout the era of the sixties from household products, celebrity portraits, to historical political events.   The images Warhol produced which include even himself as a machine,  a product, and commercial property is something we continue to learn from and gain a deeper sense of reality. What made Warhol so brilliant was his attraction to everything around him.  For Warhol everyday household items on display was like walking through a gallery, everyone had a chance to be famous even for a hot moment, and even the bleakest moments had something beautiful to be displayed.  Most artists can’t claim to be a reflection of their art as much as Warhol.  Perhaps his simple logic and ways is what makes him so brilliant and to this day he remains America’s all-time best-selling artist.