Every day we are bombarded with Images we receive from television, movies, billboards and photography. It is impossible to pay equal attention to all of it so we tend to skim. The images that we remember are the ones that are simple, clear and repetitious. This overabundance of images is called celebrity, which replaces the Renaissance idea of fame. Fame was the reward for visible deeds, a social agreement about what was worth doing. Today, the celebrity is the famous image of a person or famous name brand and as Daniel Boors tin pointed out, is famous for being famous- nothing else; hence his willingness and disposability.
The artist who understood this best was Andy Warhol. He constantly warned people not to look any deeper than the surface of his art and life and yet he consistently connected the two. Through his works we are constantly reminded of ourselves and society and we see images transformed into commercialized property that are repeatedly inflicted upon us, throwing us into a confusion of reading the images as just images or discovering the messages reflected within them. He made out that his work was superficial, but by definition the truly superficial are unaware of their actions, much less willing to acknowledge and embrace as Warhol did. Andy Warhol s contributions to the history of art was one of profound influence and magnitude.
Never before had an artist promoted such indifference to his work style and captured such public opinion. Warhol exuded an indifferent anti-establishment attitude, and believed that you do not have to act crazy, you can let others do that for you. No matter what his chosen medium, the works of Andy Warhol generally shocked, outraged, and influenced public opinion like that of no other cultural figure in America. This attitude that Warhol became well known for, seemed to have been derived from the national attitude of withdrawal from any political actions. At this point in tim there was widespread rumour of Soviet threat brought about by the Cold War, generating a political climate that frowned upon any form of disagreement. This political restlessness reached a climax in the early 1950 s.
On the one hand, the standard of living seemed to have improved, but on the other hand there was nothing that protests could do. These feelings of individual powerlessness and increased well-being developed a distanced, emotionless acceptance of all that might come. In art, Pop Art emerged as a reaction against the non figurative and egocentric character of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism was a period of art whose style was characterized by a strong dependence on chance and accident and there was no effort made to represent subject matter. It has been suggested that Abstract Expressionism reduced to a minimum the difference between creator and creation and that Pop reduced to a minimum the difference between ready made and hand made. If this is true, then Warhol is a perfect example of Pop artistry.
Pop Art focused its attentions upon familiar images of the popular culture. One aspect that set Pop Art apart from the recognized conventions in art was the tedious character of the object selected and thus, many regarded the movement as an assault on the accepted norms. All through the 1950 s, a person s identity was linked to consumption as it had never been before, but at least people were given the freedom to purchase as they desired. In an ocean of identical looking houses in identical neighborhoods, the selection of a particular couch or rug offered a reassuring statement of individuality and self-possession. However, in Warhol s hands, repeated images of mass-marketed goods implied that even consumption is manipulated and controlled by a force larger than the individual. Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhol on August 6 th, 1927 in Pittsburg to Czechoslovakian parents.
He grew up in a poor working class neighborhood. He was the only member of his family to attend college, graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology with a degree in design in 1949. In 1952 he moved to New York to try his hand at commercial illustration. Commissions came fairly readily, Warhol taking up small jobs such as a job with a shoe company drawing shoes. In 1955, he had an exhibition of shoe portraits painted in gold, each shoe named after a star of show business. The shoe drawings attempted to capture celebrities personas through the image of their shoes and included figures as diverse as Kate Smith, Elvis Presley, and Christine Jorgenson, the famous transsexual.
These drawings initiated a pattern that would become quite familiar in Warhol s works, allowing him to associate his art with celebrities, taking advantage of other s fame to boost his own. He did various other jobs as a commercial artist producing greeting cards and displays on windows of department stores. Within a few years, he became a commercial success, one of the leading fashion illustrators in New York and winner of a number of design industry awards. In 1959, he began making paintings that depicted enlarged comic strip images, and in 1961 his paintings of Dick Tracy appeared in a window display for Lord and Taylor s. Although this type of expression was a reasonably straightforward imitation of comic strips, it had the same mistakes: dripped paint and unfinished parts. In terms of Abstract Expressionism, it became art.
It was at this time that Warhol pioneered the development of the process whereby an enlarged photographic image is transferred to a silk-screen that is then placed on a canvas and inked from the back. It was this technique that enabled him to produce the series of mass-media images- repetitive, yet with slight variations- that he began in 1962. The uneven in kings of the roller and general graininess added to the affect of his work, suggesting not the humanizing touch of the hand but the pervasiveness of routine error. Soon afterwards, Warhol began working on a series of images based on advertising from newspaper ads for televisions or vacuum cleaners to universally recognized consumer icons such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. What the comic strip and advertising imagery shared was a ready-made character and mass-market appeal. Warhol, who had achieved fame for witty and inventive reinterpretations of exclusive commodities, here reproduced images he neither designed nor interpreted.
When he found out a short while later that Roy Lichtenstein was also painting images derived from comic books, Warhol stopped making comic strips and concentrated his efforts solely on imagery derived from advertising. For Warhol, the most important aspect of the picture was its truth rather than its scale or subject matter. The scale as in Lichtenstein s work was greatly magnified by comparison with the original, but was only magnified to the extent that permitted one to see it as a picture. Matter of scale was less important to Warhol than it had been for Lichtenstein and Oldenburg because once the basic transformation had been made, he did not attempt to exploit it.
Although the subject matter of most of his works was in no way extraordinary, the execution of his work represented a departure from the accepted standards of the times. His larger pictures were generally made up of repeated units of moderate and uniform size forcing upon the viewer the issue of hand-made versus mechanical almost to the breaking point. Through the use of silk-screening photographic images, or stenciling commercialized labels, Warhol turned out dozens of the same object in his works, though the stenciling and silk-screening was done to varying sizes and intensities, and small variations occurred from one image to the next. His reoccurring images run through the viewer s mind with terrifying monotony and force one to concentrate on small changes in density, positioning and detail.
In Warhol s words, I want to be a machine, expressed his need to extract from mass culture the theme of repetition. He loved the sameness of mass products: an infinite series of identical objects- soup cans, Coke bottles, dollar bills, or the same head of Marilyn Monroe silk-screened over and over again. Warhol seemed to have a fascination with time, boredom, and repetition and he experimented the limits a person would or could go to while still retaining some thread of interest. This could be similar to a scratched compact disk that becomes stuck on the same note, the same thing repeats over and over again, until it begins to have a new rhythm and pattern of its own. This can be seen in a few of his films such as, Blow Job (1964), Sleep (1963), and the Chelsea Girls (1966). Like his paintings, many of his films were experimental and where he tested the ability of the viewer to concentrate on a fixed image.
In his movie Blow Job (1964), for example, the audience is given the facial view of a man and although you see nothing below the chest line of the man, his facial expression suggest what is occurring below the span of the camera view. For thirty-five minutes, the camera does not move, thus testing the attention span of the audience. For this particular movie, Warhol hired 5 young men to come in and participate in the event. Homosexuality is a recurrent theme of many of his movies, and even early in his career, Warhol seemed to market himself with his sexuality, using it to stand out from the crowd. Warhol was a collector of people as well as objects, and he built careers and watched while they were destroyed. Suicide, drug abuse, and severe psychological disturbance all followed in his wake among the people who came into his studio and starred in his movies.
It was not that he hurt anybody, rather he was drawn to flamboyant and bizarre people who had the tendency to self-destruct, and he did nothing to prevent that process. He has been called a Rorschach inkblot of our society, his work finding the worst regions of our souls. What Warhol wanted was his work to be viewed as if glancing at a television, not scanned as a picture. He paralleled his work to American television of the sixties, which was morally numb, haunted by death, and disposed to treat all events as spectacles.
Warhol enjoyed violence. This can be seen in his Death Images paintings. In this series, Warhol used news photos of accidents, suicides, murders, riots and other horrendous human activities, blown up as large as life in some cases. He projected these onto huge canvases. The resulting works were strange, frightening creations that overwhelmed the viewer with their realistic power. All of these works shared not just the theme of death, but the condition of being an uninvolved spectator.
In his search for artistic truths, Warhol stripped away the layers of make-believe and repression that had obscured the dark memories and knowledge that all of us share. His imagery gripped the imagination, striking a hauntingly responsive chord with his viewers. One such work originating from a photograph of an electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, is entitled Electric Chair (1965). The chair stands in the middle of an empty room and in the upper right hand corner we see a small sign bearing the single word SILENCE, imprinted in bold letters.
This kind of mindless comparison generates its own peculiar horror. Warhol often searched for this kind of juxtaposition and used it to heighten the effect of his creations. They are the same as the found objects artists use in collage and assemblage. A lot in Warhol s imagery can be moralized upon, although not according to Warhol himself.
Images of a grief stricken Jackie Kennedy, or Marilyn Monroe, a woman transformed into commercialized property are repeatedly inflicted upon us, throwing us into a confusion of reading the images as just images or discovering the messages reflected within them. Representative of Andy Warhol s best work is a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. At first, the treatment of the subject seems offensive: garish colours smeared across her image screaming for attention, as if the artist sought the lowest possible way to alter her image. However once the initial shock is overcome, the work can be appreciated on many different levels. There is strength in its composition, control in the artless manner in which the image is projected onto the canvas, life in its overconfident use of colour, but most importantly is its highly sensitive subject matter.
At one level, the portrait can be seen as a concept of the universal woman whose idealized features confront our eyes from every viewpoint. Although we may or may not like her, we cannot escape her. She appears in magazines and movies, on billboards and on posters. On another level, we can look at the subject as a portrait. Here is Marilyn Monroe draped in the mask of a goddess. As she now appears she is a star, bigger than life.
Behind the mask though, she is a woman, and a vulnerable one. She is made of flesh and half-realized dreams- hardly the stuff gods are made of. On yet another level, we are told the tragic story of Marilyn Monroe. She is a being metamorphosed into commercial property, carefully made, packaged, and sold. Her painted image is reproduced endlessly until it is no longer possible to tell where the mask ends and she begins, illusion and reality becoming confused. What a sad transformation.
A Poet might tell her story in a hundred thousand words, a director could possibly document a three-hour movie, yet Andy Warhol tells it in a small painting covered in gaudy colours. Of all the Pop Art images, Andy Warhol s Campbell s Soup Can series is probably the most famous and is easily recognized as Pop Art. His series was first exhibited in the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962. It threatened the concept of fine art and meshed it with the emerging graphic arts culture. It was his technique of silk-screening that enabled him to produce the series of mass-media images, repetitive yet with slight variations, that he began in 1962. These, incorporating such items as Campbell s Soup Cans, can be taken as a comment on the triviality, harshness, and innuendo of American culture.
In Rosalind Constable s article from the New York Herald Tribune on May 17 th, 1964, Marcel Duchamp is quoted as saying, If you take a Campbell s Soup can and repeat it fifty times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is the concept that wants to put fifty Campbell s Soup cans on a canvas. For Warhol, the image was not as important as what his collective effort strove for. Warhol s work flowed from one central insight: that in a culture glutted with information, where most people experience most things at second or third hand through television and print, through images that become dull and disassociated by being repeated again and again and again, there is a role for affectless art.
There is no longer a need for detail or precision as there had been in traditional art forms. You can take an indifferent approach. Warhol did not have to discover this, he already felt it and he embraced it. If you look at a more traditional artist who had painted the same motifs in order to display minute discriminations of perceptions, the shift of light and colour from their works, and how these could be recorded by the subtlety of the eye and hand. Warhol s thirty-two soup cans are about nothing of the kind. They are about sameness: same brand, same size, same paint surface, and same fame as product.
They mimic the condition of mass advertising, out of which his sensibility had grown. This affectlessness, this fascinated and yet indifferent take on the object, became the key to Warhol s work; it is there in the repetition of stars faces, and as a record of the condition of being an uninvolved spectator that it speaks eloquently about the condition of image overload in a media saturated culture. Warhol offered the first suggestion of the severe influence and nature of the media upon our society. But that was it, and gradually people became bored of the boring and his appeal died out.
However, no artist since has provided such an insight on its affects, and because of this, Warhol will remain one of the most influential artists of our times. 31 e.