Born in 1928 to a Catholic family that emigrated from Europe, Andy Warhol grew up in an environment in which he didn’t belong. For one, he was gay. His awkwardness and low self-esteem throughout the beginnings of his life and throughout a large portion of his career didn’t seem to help him either. However, Warhol went on to be a leader of the new and emerging pop art movement. He is remembered for his intense contributions to both this art movement and film, with which he began to experiment with later on in his career. Undoubtedly, his life events and personality had an immense impact on his works, such as his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.
In reflecting on his career, Warhol addressed the Soup Cans paintings as his favorite work. This series work is noted as Warhol’s transition from hand painting and minimalistic sketching to photo transferring painting, and it has an interesting story behind it. But before the Soup Can paintings came about, Warhol was creating minimalistic sketches in the 1950’s. Untouched since 1990, the uncovered works showcase Warhol’s beginnings. The sketches demonstrate Warhol’s strong eye as he drew influence from his youth when he worked as an illustrator in the advertising and fashion industry. The untitled, simplistic sketches, renamed Female Head and Two Girls Holding Hands, are a stark contrast from his vibrant future works. Quite interestingly, if I was not told that these works were made by Warhol in his early stages, I would not have guessed that he was the artist behind them. Not surprisingly, Warhol’s early artwork didn’t gain him much notoriety as they showcased his talent in a way that did not separate him from other artists of his time. But in 1962, he began to make art that was well received and craved by the public. Upon asking his friends for suggestions on subjects to paint, he was told that he should paint something easily recognizable by everyone - “such as Campbell’s Soup.” Impulsively, Warhol went to a supermarket and bought Campbell’s cans. Rather than dripping paint like he previously had in his other works, Warhol aimed to mechanically reproduce the Campbell’s cans as he traced projections onto a canvas and tightly painted within the constraints. When Irving Bloom paid Andy Warhol a visit, he was expecting to see Andy’s comic-strip paintings, but Bloom was pleasantly surprised by the two original Soup Can paintings. He offered Andy a show that summer in which he exhibited the two original Soup Can paintings and the thirty additional Soup Can paintings on shelves throughout his gallery. With this work, titled 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, Warhol was pushed towards printing to achieve the mechanical appearance and repetitiveness he desired in his paintings.
As Warhol continued through 1962, he began to focus on silkscreens. Warhol’s acquaintances remember his constant desire to gain fame and become a star. According to friends and acquaintances, “beauty and fame went together in his mind.” When Marilyn Monroe passed away in August of 1962, Warhol instantly got the idea to make screens of her “beautiful face.” Acting upon the suggestion of Henry Geldzahler, Andy created The Marilyn Diptych. Using a still from Marilyn’s 1953 film Niagra, Andy painted grounds of vivid color in the locations of her head, lips, and shoulders, then silkscreened the black and white silkscreen over it. This was a complete reversal of the painting and silkscreen process. Through August and September, Warhol painted one Marilyn after another, twenty-three in all. He created the immense diptych, consisting of one hundred images of Marilyn, half in color and the other half in black and white. Random imperfections often found themselves in the diptych, often reminiscent of Warhol’s blotted lines technique. The silkscreens became blocked, and as a result, Marilyn’s expression was different in every section. To Warhol, every imperfection meant something. This series of Marilyn Monroe was followed by a series of images of Elizabeth Taylor when her health was deteriorating. These series were followed by Warhol’s narrative works known as “the death paintings.” In an interview, Warhol recalls turning on the radio during a holiday and hearing about death. These grotesque photographs of car crashes appeared in New York newspapers and police files as Andy began to draw from them. Geldzahler recalls telling Warhol “it’s enough life, it’s time for a little death.” Warhol aimed to showcase those forgotten after their deaths as he wanted pay homage to just a few of the thousands. Warhol said, “I thought that people should think about them sometimes, the girl that jumped off the Empire State Building, the ladies that ate the poisoned tuna fish, and the people getting killed in car crashes. It’s not that I feel sorry for them, it’s just that people go by and it doesn’t really matter to them that someone unknown was killed.” The Death and Disaster paintings were not immediately popular as many gallery owners refused to showcase them.
Andy’s fascination and complicated relationship with women was communicated by his Ethel Scull 36 Times painting. This work was by far the most successful portrait of the 1960’s. It was a new look at the same human from thirty-six different angles, with thirty-six different expressions. Geldzahler said “He was creating an image of a superstar, out of a woman who could have been anyone out of a series of women.” This work was commissioned as Warhol took hundreds of pictures of Ethel Scull wearing Yves Saint Laurent. As he began dropping quarters in the machine, Warhol told Scull, “now start smiling and talking, this is costing me money.” Out of the hundreds of pictures he took, Warhol initially selected thirty-five, then added an additional one to make thirty-six. Ethel Scull recalls that Andy’s directing was so good “that he should have already been in movies.” It wasn’t until later in his career that Warhol got into movie production. For the next five years, Warhol poured his energy into making movies at his NYC studio known as "The Factory." Warhol presented one of his first movies "Kiss" to Irving Blum. Blum sat and watched, presuming the film was a slide as the two people did not move as their lips were locked. Then, the man blinked. Irving recalls this as “a revelation, a reinvention of cinema.” Warhol put what he could not express in his paintings into movies. His silent films focused on things that no one would notice about human behavior and human nature. He made his first film in the summer of 1963 as he shot hour after hour of his friend and lover John Giorno sleeping. These films offered “literal clock time," something that his paintings could not offer.
On February 22, 1987, Andy Warhol passed away at the age of 58 due to medical complications and negligent oversight after his surgery. Even after his death, Warhol’s notorious artwork lives on. In remembering Andy, Irving Bloom describes that Warhol belongs “among the most serious and thoughtful people of the art world… Picasso owns the first half of the 20th century and Andy, without question, owns the second half.”