Andy Warhol: The Creator of Icons Maria Pelletier Art History James Trevelyan April 1, 2012 Andy Warhol. Simply hearing the legendary pop artist’s name conjurers up images in the listener’s mind of glamorous celebrities, politicians and soup cans. You do not have to be an artist, or know anything about art to recognize the name of Andy Warhol. He has made a career out of creating and mass producing icons, and subsequently became an icon himself. He forced individuals to consider what they thought constituted as art, and challenged their conclusions. Throughout his lifetime, he painted, made prints, films and sculptures as well as creating a hub for bohemian artists and underground celebrities known as The Factory. Warhol began his artistic career as a successful commercial artist, a vocation which allowed him to become extremely familiar with the consumerist culture of the American population. He was enamored with this culture, and fervently believed in the American Dream. As the son of two impoverished Slovakian immigrants, his rise to superstardom is truly a real life Cinderella story. He never did forget his less than glamorous childhood in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and it is this memory that perhaps inspired one of his most famous pieces, Campbell’s Soup Cans. Warhol consumed a can of Campbell’s Soup at least daily, as this soup had been readily available to him throughout his life, being cheap to acquire and easy to make. His homage to these soup cans became a symbol of equality; no matter how much money or power somebody had, they could never taste a better can of Campbell’s Soup. This same thought process occurred to him as he created his Coca Cola bottle paintings. “ America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than 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.” Through his unique and revolutionary personal style, Andy Warhol revolutionized both the art world and the non-art world during the sixties. His Campbell’s Soup Cans made Time magazine in May 1962 and this signified that Andy was becoming an icon in his own right. Controversy began to arise over the validity of his pieces and whether or not they deserved to be classified as art. Warhol was not deterred by this criticism however, he thrived on the attention. He was quickly becoming a household name, and fame was something that was incredibly important to him. Death was something else that became important and meaningful to Warhol. He created a series of pieces depicting car crashes, poisonings, suicides, race riots, and plane crashes. The kind of events that the American people would have been very familiar with, that would have been plastered on newspapers and broadcasted into their homes on their televisions. He would repeat the same horrific image, lessening the impact of the morbid images to the viewer. He also depicted death in a less obvious way, through the image of a deceased Hollywood starlet. His famous Marilyn Diptych depicts the iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe, one of the most celebrated actresses that ever lived, repeated fifty times, giving her a sense of presence and strength. What is truly moving about this piece is the way that the Marilyn’s to the far right of the piece begin to fade away, eventually becoming only a faint echo of the images on the left. She seems to be dying before the viewer’s eyes, although her smile remains forever plastered on her face. Perhaps this is a metaphor for celebrities in American culture; not being allowed to live their lives quietly and privately, or even to die in peace with dignity. They are forced to constantly live up to the expectations of the public and, in the case of Marilyn Monroe; can often lead to ultimately, tragic conclusions. Andy Warhol himself was not immune to such pressures. He was now in the public eye, and in order to maintain this position of notoriety he knew that he would have to give his audience something to talk about. He moved away from painting entirely for a while and instead turned to the art of sculpture. Andy began to produce wooden boxes that he fashioned to mimic exactly the cardboard cartons that American families in the sixties saw every day. They were often covered with brand names and logos, differentiating them from the multitude of other boxes, used to sell cleaning supplies and packaged foods. Warhol painstakingly reproduced these boxes, using stencils to transfer the logos precisely, making his pieces almost impossible to differentiate from the originals. His Brillo boxes were perhaps the most famous example of these types of sculptures. Once again, Andy had turned the public’s idea of what art was on its head. Were these boxes, which were hardly different from the cheap cardboard boxes that inspired them, fit to be called art? Andy Warhol thought so, and the world during and after him was forced to accept this new approach to making art. His art was not the only thing that he forced on the unsuspecting American public in the 1960’s. He set the standard of living for artists of the time period, one that included fashion, music, the cinema, sex and narcotics as well as art. The Factory, an actual factory located at 231 East Forty-seventh Street in Manhattan became Andy Warhol’s orphanage, where he adopted many of the beautiful, drug addicted, sexually free individuals who were living in New York at the time. The Factory and its merry band of misfits enabled Andy to begin his next artistic venture: creating films. Although his films are not as recognizable as his paintings or sculptures, they once again forced his audience to rethink the way they thought about movies. Empire, an eight hour movie that depicts nothing but the Empire State building, once again confused the general populace of America. Perhaps it was not the building itself that was important to Andy, but the idea of making a moving picture show where nothing on the screen actually moved. He wanted to push the boundaries of people’s expectations of art, and cinematography was no exception. Andy Warhol’s life forever changed the way that art was made and conceived by the artists who followed him. He transcended the anonymity of the majority of artists that came before him by bursting into the American stream of consciousness and by remaining there even today. Andy Warhol’s name, image and art works have all become common place and easily recognizable. Iconic is the word that describes him best and icons are what he was in the business of creating.