In this success story, we will share Andy Warhol biography, an American artist, filmmaker, producer, and photographer who prolifically impacted the art world.
The influence of Andy Warhol has shaken up the art world and left it forever altered. Initially dismissed by New York’s established artists, Warhol reveled in international superstardom and critical acclaim. He founded the concept of pop art and created a multimedia Factory in New York City, where some of the most fabulous and glamorous people of the ’60s hung out.
Warhol rarely delved into typical boys’ activities. Instead, he spent his childhood fascinating himself with movies, comics, photography, and drawing. Ever since he was a kid, he showed his intellectuality, which was much admired by those who knew him. His rebellious attitude not only gained him critical acclaim in the world of fine art but also laid the groundwork for a new genre of music to be born out of New York City.
It all starts at a small kitchen table where Julia Warhola gathers her three children to tell them their family’s history.
The legend begins in the village of Mikova, a small outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the Carpathian Mountains. The people of Mikova were Byzantine Catholics whose allegiance was with the Russian Orthodox church in Kyiv. They were God-loving peasants, handsome men, and pretty women with soft skin, contrary to the depiction of Ruthenians in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Andy’s father, Andrei, was among those handsome men, rocking a glamorous mustache with his baggy white trousers tucked into dirty working boots.
Friends often referred to Andy as “Drella”, saying that he looked like a mix of Dracula and Cinderella. After his death, Lou Reed and John Cale from the Velvet Underground reunited to record a tribute album to Andy entitled “Songs for Drella.”
The war had lost the Warholas most of their possessions, including their home and Julia’s husband, Andrei. Andrei was in America making money, a separation that would last nine years. After the war, a significant flu epidemic killed many people in Europe, especially the Carpathians. Having to support three children in extreme poverty, Julia was determined to emigrate to America and find her husband. She borrowed $160 from a local priest, put her children in a horse cart and train, and then shipped to make her way to America in 1921.
Like his mother, Andy would often exaggerate his childhood, painting a dramatic depiction of a family in poverty and being the youngest sibling who was often bullied and misunderstood. Andy frequently lied about his age and place of birth. In the 1971 film Andy Warhol, he is portrayed as being born at midnight amid a fire.
Pittsburgh was a dirty, working-class city in the 20s. One miner said, “This is hell if there is a hell anywhere.” Humans had to live in abominable habitats, faced with horrendous ugliness and revolting smells twenty-four hours a day. There was so much smog that cars had to drive with their headlights on during the day.
Pittsburgh was where many immigrants came to work. In this dirty place, their only escape was alcohol and prostitution. Unlike many Ruthenian immigrants, Andrei neither gambled nor drank.
Andy Warhol was born in the family’s bedroom on August 06, 1928. It was just one year before the Great Depression hit America. Early life in Pittsburgh wasn’t very glamorous, and Andy often got sick.
Andy developed a fear of hospitals and doctors. His medical conditions often led him to stay in bed during school days. It turned him into a bit of an outcast among kids. It also led to Andy developing a significant bond with his mother. Amongst the smog and depression of Pittsburgh, Andy appeared almost like a cartoonish Cinderella character.
The family moved into a better neighborhood in Oakland. It was like going into a different world. Andy Warhol was able to attend a safer elementary school where he wasn’t bullied for the way he looked and for his funny immigrant last name. While all the boys played softball and football and swam in Schenley Park, Andy mostly stuck to himself and drew with crayons. He was very observant and knowledgeable and disliked most typical boy activities.
Andy often hung around girls instead of guys. His best childhood friend was a Ukrainian girl, Margie Girman. They looked similar in size and build. Andy usually played with Margie on the street or waited for her on her doorstep. Andy modeled himself after Margie, who constantly stimulated Andy to do well in school. They had a photograph together when they were seven years old. Their expressions and stances are very similar, almost like they have the same personality. Part of Andy wanted to be Margie.
At school, Andy’s reputation as a crybaby often forced people to overlook that he was suffering from a strange condition. He started getting shaking hands and slurring his speech, finding it hard to sit or stand. It came down to an inability to write his name or tie his shoelaces. When the family called Dr. Zeedick, he immediately diagnosed Andy with a mild case of “St. Vitus’ dance” and ordered him to stay at home for at least a month.
Developing as a Young Artist
Staying home wasn’t all anti-productive as Andy soon took up drawing, listening to the radio, and collecting pictures of celebrities. Upon reflection, Warhol stated that this was a pivotal point in his artistic development. Spending time at home helped him attain a skill set, understand his preferences, and develop his unique character. Drawing was his favorite childhood activity.
Andy was an avid movie fan. When his mother bought him a camera at 9, he got into photography. He set up a darkroom in the basement and developed his photos. Andy Warhol enjoyed various artistic activities and even took free art classes at the Carnegie Institute while attending school.If you're not trying to be real, you don't have to get it right. That's art. – Andy Warhol Click To Tweet
The month of detachment from the outside world was a blessing for Andy. He was finally allowed to do what he loved for a month straight. Julia provided him with movie magazines, comic books, and cut-out paper dolls; he was always engaged in art. Andy colored books, ran the house radio, made collages with magazine illustrations, watched films, and daydreamed. Andy’s oldest brother Paul showed him how to put wax on the surface of a comic strip and turn the image over on white paper. It was the lesson of reproducing an image on a different paper, a process that stuck with Andy throughout his maturation as an artist.
Andy ended up staying at home for two months after a violent incident with his neighbor left him in a worse condition than before. He didn’t want to go back, fearing that kids would beat him up. Andy hated physical violence and stayed away from it. When Andy finally returned to school, he was put ahead of the other kids, even though he missed two months.
Meanwhile, Andrei worked so hard that he often returned home with enough energy to stand outside, silently watering the garden with a hose. Andrei was tough. He could stop the fighting or argue between the three brothers with a threatening glance that scared the boys stiff. Julia begged Andrei to stop overworking. Their eldest son Paul was already working and brought the salary to the house, so it was no longer necessary for Andrei to overwork. Yet, the father still pushed himself to take every opportunity he could. His most significant concern was what would happen to his savings after he died.
The tragedy struck when Andrei passed away from liver complications. Andy hid under his bed throughout his father’s funeral in profound misery. In his will, Andrei stated that all his life savings would go towards Andy’s education.
With Andrei gone and Paul soon to be married, Andy and Julia clung to each other through the vulnerable times. Julia soon suffered from ill health, which distraught and scared Andy. Her condition got so bad that she called a doctor to the house, who diagnosed her with colon cancer. At best, her chances of survival were fifty-fifty.
Julia had undergone a painful operation that was successful against all the odds. Andy burst into the hospital on the day of the surgery, asking, “Did Momma die?” They prayed a lot for the good health of his mother. When Andy had nowhere else to turn, he turned to God. His praying helped him much in his early life.
Adolescence & High School
On the day his mother returned from the hospital, Andy’s angelic beauty disappeared. Puberty struck him furiously. His nose became more prominent, and his skin condition started showing. He rarely ate and turned skinny. The Cinderella character of Andy Warhol began morphing with the role of Dracula – a transformation that later earned him the nickname Drella amongst his superstar friends.
The lucky thing was that Pittsburgh was the right place to study art in the 30s and 40s. Some of the world’s leading collectors were there, and they sponsored exhibitions and art classes for talented young people. While going to Schenley High School, Andy took advantage of these courses and attended them regularly.
The school housed a mix of students of different races. The art department was correct; Andy spent lots of his time there. Both students and teachers at Schenley recognized that he was a talented young individual. Andy was not picked on in this school. His brother John recalls that even an Irish boy protected him. He later became a policeman.
Andy drew lots of his friends, who often huddled around his desk to watch. Wherever he went, he had his sketchbook with him. Drawings piled up in his room. Throughout his school years, Andy remained close to his childhood friend Margie Girman and her friend Mina. Mina wasn’t a trendy girl in school, but Andy often complimented her and told her she had beautiful hair and good taste in clothes.
Andy’s success with girls stirred jealousy with the boys. They wondered how this strange-looking, pimply-faced, high-pitched Warhola could chatter to the girls that it made other boys shake nervously.
As a teenager, Andy was a movie junkie. He enjoyed commercial Warner Brothers films with Humphrey Bogart and Tom and Jerry and Mickey Mouse cartoons. Andy spent a lot of time near the radio listening to the war. The voices of Churchill, Hitler, and Edward R. Murrow permeated the household. His favorite radio character was the Shadow, and his favorite subject of war conversation was the death toll. Andy observed earthquakes, circus fires, railroad accidents, plane crashes, electric chairs, strange suicides, and various death-related things. Back then, the newspapers barely filtered the gruesome imagery of death; for Andy, it was the grislier, the better.
Graduation & College
Andy Warhol was close friends with the art teacher and wanted to become one himself. After graduating from Schenley High School in 1945, that was precisely what Andy planned to do. He had already been accepted into the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, so he had a choice. Andy’s final decision was to study commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
Andy took every possibility presented to him at college. He joined a dance club and an art society. He became art director of a student magazine called Cano, making two illustrations in 1948 and 1949. Those are considered to be his first-ever published artworks. Andy Warhol graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design in 1949.
Later that year, Andy dropped the “a” at the end of his last name to become Andy Warhol and moved to New York City with his mother. He started as a commercial artist with a magazine illustration and advertising career. Warhol worked with Columbia Records, Harper’s Bazaar, Tiffany & Co., Glamour Magazine, and Vogue within a year of being in New York.
New York City
Upon establishing himself as an acclaimed graphic artist, Warhol could turn to painting and drawing. His first exhibition was entitled Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote and displayed at the Hugo Gallery in 1952. Warhol eventually began using some photo-based techniques that he developed as an illustrator. His work matured and stood out, being in his specific style. Many art establishments noticed Warhol’s artistic prowess and offered him a collaboration.
Andy Warhol lived in New York with his mother in an apartment on East 75th Street. Around 1953-1955, he dyed his hair silver to become the iconic Warhol as we know him. Apart from painting, Warhol published several books, including Twenty-Five Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy. He traveled the world with his friend and television-set designer Charles Lisanby in 1956. That same year, his work was displayed in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.Making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art. – Andy Warhol Click To Tweet
Warhol soon began receiving outstanding feedback for his work. Between 1956 and 1957, he won three awards and gained a publication in Life magazine for an illustration he did. Warhol was first on RCA’s list for designing album covers and promotional art when the music record industry expanded.
It was in the late 1950s that Warhol developed his iconic painting techniques. He used tracing paper and ink to create endless variations of the same image. Warhol also developed his silkscreen printmaking technique, becoming one of the first to use it. Warhol recalled his process by saying, “When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”
In 1961, Andy Warhol debuted with his concept of pop art. It wasn’t until the Campbell’s Soup Cans exhibition in 1962 that pop art stirred a hurricane in the art world. The show paved the way for Warhol’s debut in the national spotlight. It was at the Stable Gallery, where the exhibition took place. There, Andy met the poet and would-be Warhol superstar John Giorno. Giorno would star in Warhol’s Sleep, the first film he made in 1963.
“Once you ‘got’ pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again,” those were Andy’s words regarding pop art.
Even though Warhol did garner praise from those who ‘got it,’ it balanced out with the hostile reception he also received. During a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the art world expressed lots of rage toward pop artists such as Warhol. Critics were embarrassed by Warhol’s embrace of consumer and market culture. This set the tone for the kind of reception Warhol will often receive for his work.
A 1964 The American Supermarket exhibit proved pivotal in Andy’s career. It was held in Paul Bianchini’s Upper East Side gallery and presented a classic American supermarket environment, outfitted with meat, posters, canned goods, etc. The exhibit featured several prominent pop artists of the time, including Warhol. At the exhibition, Warhol sold paintings of his Campbell’s soup cans for $1,500 each and individual autographed cans for $6. This exhibit is considered one of the first events to confront the public with pop art and explore what art could mean in general.
The 1960s was when Warhol made some of his most iconic paintings. Dollar bills, mushroom clouds, Coca-Cola bottles, electric chairs, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and other celebrities. One of his controversial works of the time was a newspaper headline that depicted police dogs attacking African-American protesters at the Birmingham Campaign during the Civil Rights Movement. Andy has always been fascinated by “pop” culture. This is what he had to say about Coca-Cola:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same, and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.“
It is interesting to see how this concept works in the Blade Runner (1982) movie, where a trashed dystopian Earth, with most humans off the planet, still has a Coca-Cola advertisement, which can be seen vividly among the metropolitan chaos.
In 1964, Warhol opened an art studio called “The Factory.” It was in a large warehouse, mainly painted silver on the inside. The Factory was another statement of Andy’s. He took the analytical and highly personal aspects of art creation and demolished them by forming his studio’s art production machine. Very quickly, word of the Factory spread through the art world, becoming the go-to place in New York. Wealthy celebrities, public figures, and intellectuals attended the lavish parties and gatherings at the Factory. To get a picture of the kind of figures you’d find there, listen to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
A significant aspect of Andy’s work is collaboration. Gerard Malanga, a frequenter at the Factory and a friend of Andy’s, assisted him with various jobs. They produced silkscreens, films, and sculptures. When Andy was looking for a band, Malanga brought him to see The Velvet Underground playing in a small cafe. Billy Name, Brigid Berlin, Mary Woronov, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, Ultra Violet, and Candy Darling were all fascinating characters always present in Andy’s glamorous silver-painted studio.
The Velvet Underground
An overlooked contribution of Andy’s was one that he made to the world of music. The Velvet Underground significantly influenced alternative music, spawning punk rock in New York. Every band from the CBGBs club cited the Velvet Underground as a primary influence on their art. Andy spectacularly hosted Velvet Underground concerts, calling it the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. It included the band playing behind a film screening with psychedelic lights dancing around the room. Gerard Malanga and his dancing partner embodied the spirit of the heavily experimental music. While performing in Los Angeles to disgusted crowds of hippies, Malanga significantly impacted a young college student who went on to become the Lizard King of rock’n’roll – Jim Morrison of The Doors.
Andy Warhol was the spectator who would be found observing the scene from the balcony. The legend goes that the Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) album didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought a copy formed a band. The noise, the darkness, the reality, and the spectacle stirred a hurricane in the music world, which was playing it safe with Greenwich Village folk songs at the time. The West Coast is about peace, love, happiness, LSD, and marijuana. The gritty New York did not connect with that rhetoric. The Factory scene set the ground for state-altering drugs in art, such as amphetamine and heroin. Warhol and many friends frequently experimented with such substances in the sixties.
Andy’s unorthodox approach and his freedom of experimentation gave The Velvet Underground the possibility of changing the music world. Even though promotional tactics were applied, the Velvets were allowed to create experimental music that broke all boundaries. Songs like “Heroin” and the lengthy “Sister Ray” were banned from radio stations. Such concepts in music were virtually unthinkable. The music was clean and commercial. So was the Velvet Underground in the way Andy presented them. But when the listener peeled off the first layer, they found themselves in a harsh and true reality – ugly yet attractive and glamorous.
Andy Warhol Superstars
Many of Andy’s friends and collaborators became known as “Andy Warhol Superstars.” They starred in his films, acted as models, and hung out with him regularly – creating a sort of a clique. As Warhol became a regular fixture at the most infamous nightclubs in New York City, his Warhol Gang always tagged along, creating an eccentric and bohemian atmosphere. Andy enjoyed being a celebrity, saying that “more than anything, people just want stars.”
Not all of Andy’s collaborators had been huge fans. A radical feminist writer, Valerie Solanas, who had a lesser presence in The Factory, starred in one of Warhol’s films entitled I, a Man (1967). Apparently, Solanas was kicked out of the Factory after asking them to return a script that she had given Andy. Later that day, she shot Warhol and Mario Amaya at the studio.
Both men survived, although Warhol was severely wounded. Doctors had to open his chest and massage his heart to stimulate movement in his body. Warhol spent weeks in the hospital recovering. This assassination attempt profoundly impacted Warhol, who suffered physical aftereffects and had to wear a surgical corset. His art also became different after the shooting.
Solanas turned herself in on the day following the shooting. She explained that her actions were influenced by the fact that Andy had too much control over her life. Solanas was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had fallen under the control of the Department of Corrections.
For many, the shooting marked the end of the Factory 60s. Warhol commented on the attack: “Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there—I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television—you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.”
In the 70s, Warhol delved into various other forms of media. He published several books, including The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again) (1975) and Andy Warhol’s Exposures (1979). Along with Gerard Malanga, Andy Warhol founded Interview magazine. Warhol’s experimentation led him to produce over 60 films throughout his career. His film Sleep (1964) depicts poet and early collaborator John Giorno sleeping naked for six hours. Another underground movie, Chelsea Girls (1966), portrayed several Andy Warhol superstars on a split screen. Directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, there’s barely any plot. Watching this film can make one feel like they’re hanging out in the Factory with Warhol and the gang.
Compared to the 60s, the 70s were mostly a quiet decade for Warhol. Critics observed his art and his personality shifting towards a more entrepreneurial approach. Warhol enjoyed making portraits for various wealthy patrons, including the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi. Mick Jagger and John Lennon were also on the list. Warhol’s most famous portrait was one of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong in 1973. In his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, he said: “Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art.”
This was when Warhol could be found socializing in Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54. People described him as an observer, the shy and quiet type, while an art critic depicted him as the “white mole of Union Square.” In 1979, Warhol became one of the founders of the New York Academy of Art.
Warhol was criticized for becoming a “business artist” in the 70s. He didn’t receive positive feedback for his 1970s exhibits of celebrities. They were considered superficial and stale. Critics attacked them for “lack of depth.” Many believed that what Warhol did in the 70s, including his Jewish Geniuses exhibition, was to sell. In hindsight, those works became prominent in representing America in those times. The superficiality and commerciality of the pieces have captured 1970s American culture in a way that nothing else did. Andy Warhol knew what he was doing. Here, he comments on his appreciation of Hollywood glamour: “I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re so beautiful. Everything’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.“
The Neo-Expressionism and Transavantgarde movements were fresh in art during the 1980s. Delving into collaboration and friendships with promising younger artists, Warhol re-emerged in the spotlight during the 80s. The New York art market was a “bull market,” meaning that lots of money came in fast. Along with sculpture and photography, Warhol worked on television. He hosted Andy Warhol’s TV (1983–1984) and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes (1985-1987) on MTV. Warhol also planned to expand his business further by creating a hotel.
Health Issues & Death
Towards the mid-80s, Warhol suffered from chronic issues related to his gallbladder that eventually led to his untimely death. On February 20, 1987, Warhol was taken to a New York Hospital where he had surgery to remove his gallbladder. The surgery went well, and he was expected to recover. However, several days later, he suffered complications that resulted in a cardiac arrest. Andy Warhol died in his sleep on February 22, 1987. He was 58.
Andy Warhol had always been afraid of hospitals and doctors. His family sued the hospital for inadequate care and malpractice, a case settled when the Warhol family received an undisclosed sum of money from an undisclosed source. Like the case of John Lennon, who also died in a New York City hospital, there are numerous suspicions regarding the real reason for Warhol’s death. In the book Up-Tight: the Story of the Velvet Underground (1983), Gerard Malanga writes: “Andy Warhol was murdered in a NY hospital by mange-ridden running dogs for the underground fascist regime that really operates the monopoly game of America. He was a genius and a Saint and a “bad” man. Without him, no Lou Reed, no Nico, no Velvet Underground. Point. Set. Match. Fucke* everybody who killed him. May they suffer long and hard in the hot sun.”
Andy Warhol did not have any successors. He was openly gay before most considered it to be normal. In a 1980 interview, Warhol indicated that he was still a virgin. What little sex he had was — to use Andy’s words — abstract. His claims of being a virgin might be contradicted by his 1960s hospital treatment for condylomata, which is a disease transmitted sexually. A Warhol muse and apparent lover, BillyBoy dismissed the claims of Warhol’s chasteness. He said that Warhol was the very essence of sexuality, projecting it with joy upon the art world of New York. The vulnerability of his personality made him defensive about it. BillyBoy said that Warhol in public and Warhol in private were two different people, and in public, Warhol was usually obnoxious and unbearable.
Warhol’s homosexuality is essential because it profoundly influenced his work and shaped his relationship with the art world. He addressed it in countless interviews, publications, and conversations. Warhol produced drawings of nude males and erotic photography throughout his career. Some of his most famous portraits and films draw straight from gay underground culture, discussing and exploring it openly. Many of Warhol’s films were shown in gay porn theatres.
Initial Dismissal & Andy’s Response
Warhol’s first works submitted to an art gallery were homoerotic drawings of male nudes. In the 60s, this was unheard of, and these works were rejected because they were openly gay. In the book POPism: The Warhol Sixties (1980), Andy Warhol reveals to filmmaker Emile de Antonio the difficulty of socially accepting the more famous gay artists.Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches. – Andy Warhol Click To Tweet
The 50s and 60s were crucial moments in developing Warhol’s persona. He would often refuse to comment on his art or talk about himself. Instead, his responses would be “Um, no” and “Um, yes.” Warhol’s evolution is a response to how the inner circles of the New York art world first dismissed him.
Andy Warhol Changed the World
Andy Warhol’s work was his life, and his life was his work. He satirized and celebrated celebrity, consumerism, and pop culture. His paintings distorted culture and money-obsessed industries and brands. His focus on consumer goods and pop icons, as his dismissal and acceptance of cash and celebrity, gave an interesting comment on the aspects of American culture that his work satirized. Through this lens, Andy Warhol changed the world.
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts were established after his death. Andy remains a fascinating cultural icon through these institutions and the inspiration he gifted to so many. Throughout his life, Andy was a collector. He had an eye for beauty and saw art in everyday objects. He collected Native American artifacts, early arcade equipment, and various works by artists. Most of his works are now in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. In the years since his death, his importance only keeps growing. We hope you have enjoyed exploring Andy Warhol biography and his success story, inspiring you to make discoveries.
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