Have you ever wondered who painted the famous paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, or who depicted Marilyn Monroe as a multicolored celebrity on canvas? The artist behind these renowned paintings and of many others is Andy Warhol, the Pope of Pop.
Fascinated by the relationship between artistic expression and advertising, Warhol took well-known American objects such as Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell’s soup cans, dollar bills, as well as celebrities, and manipulated them to create his art. This pop art—an experimental art form based upon themes and techniques taken from popular mass culture—has been imitated by other artists ever since. While it may not seem unusual now, back in the 1960’s this kind of art was groundbreaking, altering people’s perceptions of what could be considered art.
Born in 1920s Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Warhol was often sick and confined to his bed as a child. Stuck at home, he filled his time by drawing, listening to the radio, and collecting pictures of movie stars. Warhol described this time in his life as being vital to the development of his personality, style, and interest in popular culture.
In addition to being an artist, Warhol was also a keen businessman and, unlike many other artists, was not shy about benefiting financially from his creations. Warhol was obsessed with mass production, claiming that he wanted to become a machine, able to reproduce the same image over and over again. As a result of this fascination, he switched from painting to screen printing, a technique that allowed him to reproduce copy upon copy of identical images. After a time, he even stopped producing these works himself, employing assistants to create the prints for him. For Warhol, the business of churning out these prints was as much a form of art as putting paint onto canvas. "Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art," he wrote in one of his books.
Warhol’s work foresaw much of what preoccupies us in the twenty-first century—fame, the media, and an insatiable appetite for mass-produced products. Consequently, though he was criticized at the time for giving in to consumerism, Warhol’s art has never gone out of fashion.