By the mid-20th century, popular culture and mass marketing had begun employing imagery on a scale unparalleled in history. The world was ablaze with billboards, advertisements, magazines, television commercials, comic strips and product packaging that, to many artists of the late-1950s, possessed a graphic dynamism and popular appeal that rendered the prevailing artistic trend of Abstract Expressionism elitist and increasingly irrelevant.
Born to Slovakian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol’s career as the foremost proponent of Pop Art began during his days as a commercial artist for newspapers and magazines. Over the 1950s and ’60s he rose to become the king of the New York avant-garde, and one of the most important and iconic artists of the 20th century. Works such as 100 Cans (1962) and his screen prints of Marilyn Monroe have come to define our notions of 20th-century art.
Warhol created work out of the imagery and iconography of consumerism and celebrity culture, and applied the same commercial processes of mass production to make it. It was an idea that venerated the banality of popular culture and sought not only to demolish rarefication in art, but to radically redefine the artist from Romantic visionary to an organising principle in a commercial system of mass production.
Having had his first solo shows of paintings in the early 1950s, Warhol began focusing on screen printing in the 1960s and opened his studio, The Factory, in 1963. The Factory became the centre for an entourage of transvestites, drug addicts, artists, models and musicians such as The Velvet Underground. By 1965 Warhol was making seminal films such as Blow Job (1964) and Sleep (1963). The Factory would remain an important centre of New York Bohemianism, but Warhol began distancing himself from its more unconventional fringes following an attempt on his life by the radical feminist and erstwhile Factory acolyte, Valerie Solanas, in 1968.
In the 1970s and 80s, Warhol returned to painting with works such as his ‘Oxidation Paintings’ series and, by the 1980s, he was mentoring and collaborating with a new generation of younger artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente. He was just 58 when he died unexpectedly following a routine gall bladder operation.
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