The father of Pop Art, Andy Warhol is widely known for his screen prints of everyday consumer goods and his homages to the beautiful and the damned of Hollywood and New York. Here we take a look at the man behind the art – from his domestic life with his mother and their cats to his near fatal encounter with radical feminist Valerie Solanas – in an attempt to paint a portrait of the artist himself.
- When was Andy Warhol born?
- Why did he become so famous?
- Was Warhol queer?
- Who shot Andy Warhol?
- How did Andy Warhol die?
Bob Adelman, Andy Warhol shopping at Gristede’s supermarket on Second Avenue, 1965.
When was Andy Warhol born?
Before Andy was Andy he was Andrew Warhola, born on 6 August (which makes him a Leo) 1928 in Pittsburgh, USA. The fourth child to immigrants from Mikó, Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia), Andy developed his artistic talent from a young age, partly helped by a period spent in bed reading and drawing as a result of contracting Sydenham’s chorea. When Warhol was just 13 his father died in a car crash, a tragedy that may have sparked his long running intimacy with his mother who had a huge influence on his work and would live with him in New York from 1952 to 1970, along with around 20 cats.
Ken Heyman, Andy Warhol at home eating Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with his mother, Julia Warhola, 1966.
Why did he become so famous?
While many artists achieve fame and success, Andy took it one step further and became an icon. From his instantly recognisable wig to his solemn gaze, his style may have contributed to his notoriety as much as his art. He wasn’t an overnight success however; when Irving Blum first staged an exhibition of Warhol’s work, displaying the Campbell’s Soup canvases on grocery shelves in his Ferus Gallery, not everyone was amused. One art critic wrote of Warhol, “This young ‘artist’ is either a soft-headed fool or a hard-headed charlatan,” and Willem de Kooning famously called him “a killer of beauty”. Despite this it wasn’t long until artists and influencers were clamoring for his prints which were made in large editions and sold for a fraction of what they can be bought for now. Soon famous faces on the art and music scene such as Grace Jones, Mick Jagger and Basquiat were vying to become the subjects of his silkscreen portraits – based on candid polaroids he took of them at the Factory – which only increased his notoriety. But it is perhaps his portraits of more tragic or historical figures that made his name, with the series of Marilyn canvases and prints in bright Pop Art colours coming to define his aesthetic and obsession with celebrity, along with portraits of Jackie O, Elvis, Chairman Mao and Elizabeth Taylor. At the same time Warhol was making films, books and even starting a magazine, Interview, which is still running today.
Warhol with Grace Jones
Was Warhol queer?
Warhol is often portrayed as asexual, preferring to observe and portray the scenes of the Factory and the characters in his often erotic films without taking part. This assumption is misleading however; actor John Giorno revealed that he and Warhol were lovers and it is also known that Warhol had a 12 year relationship with decorator Jed Johnson. As Wayne Koestenbaum wrote, “How gay was Warhol? As gay as you can get.” Apparently, for Warhol, “everything is sexual … Movement is sexual. Stillness is sexual. Looking and being looked at are sexual. Time is sexual.”
John Giorno in Sleep, 1964
Who shot Andy Warhol?
On 3 June 1968 – a tumultuous year in art and politics – a writer and radical feminist who dreamed of a world without men named Valerie Solanas paid a visit to the Factory and shot Andy Warhol while he was on the phone. Luckily, the first two shots missed but the third went through both lungs, his spleen, stomach, liver, and esophagus. She then proceeded to shoot art critic Mario Amaya in the hip. When Warhol was taken to hospital doctors had given up hope of saving him, pronouncing him dead until Amaya, who was in the bed next to him cried, “Don’t you know who this is? It’s Andy Warhol. He’s famous. And he’s rich. He can afford to pay for an operation. For Christ’s sake, do something.” The doctors immediately got back to work and managed to revive him.
Solanas soon confessed to the shooting, telling police that she had been led to it because Warhol ‘had too much control in my life’. When the case went to trial Solanas showed no regret, stating, ‘it’s not often that I shoot somebody. I didn’t do it for nothing. Warhol had tied me up, lock, stock, and barrel. He was going to do something to me which would have ruined me,’ and was sent to a psychiatric institution. The attempt on his life had a profound effect on Warhol and from then on the Factory lost its allure as the free spirited playground it had become in the 60s.
The front page of The Daily News, 4 June 1968
How did Andy Warhol die?
Having survived the shooting Warhol went on to make prolific amounts of artworks (and money) throughout the 70s and early 80s. On 21 February 1987 he underwent gallbladder surgery and was recovering well until his heart gave out around 6am the following morning. His body was taken back to Pittsburgh where, reflecting the artist’s longlife devotion to catholicism, a service was held at the Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, where Yoko Ono and John Richarson spoke. An open casket wake was held, revealing that Warhol was to be buried in his trademark platinum wig and sunglasses. Before his coffin was buried, in a plot next to his mother and father at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, the photographer and close friend of Warhol Paige Powell dropped a copy of Interview magazine and a bottle of the Estee Lauder perfume ‘Beautiful’, into the grave.
Andy Warhol’s grave in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania