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Amidst his wigs, Campbells Soup cans, urine paintings, and constant entourage of beautiful people, Andy maintained a semblance of a rich inner life. If you want to stay thin, he advised, always order the food on the menu you don’t want to eat.
Warhol was the leader of the pack in Pop-land. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he got his start in the art world doing drawings for “Glamour Magazine” and went on to become a fabulously successful New York illustrator. He dyed his hair silver in the early ’50s – and this is an important fact because for Warhol image was irremovable from art. As critic Matthew Collins puts it: “With him it was massive staging, with all pretence of not staging absolutely stripped away. It was pure staging. Like pure color.”
His first paintings in 1960 were based on comic strips like Dick Tracy and Superman. Eventually he mass-produced his silkscreens, paintings, and films in a New York studio appropriately named “The Factory”. His work focused on mass-culture objects (including celebrities) and can be interpreted as deadpan commentary on the nature of a media-saturated consumer society in which status, celebrity, and branding are driving forces.
In fact, Warhol adored celebrities and hobnobbed with a multitude of them; he even launched some careers himself, as in the case of the band, The Velvet Underground, whom he produced. Between 1968 and 1972 Warhol pumped out a series of feature movies – at the rate of one a day – with director Paul Morrissey. These raised the concept of campy trash art to a new level and had titles like “Flesh”, “Trash”, and “Blowjob”. His filmmaking style climaxed in the 1963 piece called “Sleep”, a six-hour study of a slumbering man. The viewer, of course, is liable to become one with the subject matter.
Warhol is one of the few artists to raise himself to the level of a cultural icon – and he would have had it no other way.