A documentary on Andy Warhol transported the audience to a world of candy floss colours and flamboyance

Who would have guessed a simple soup-can could inspire art? Who would have thought commercial commodities would become subjects of art? Andy Warhol changed all pre-conceived notions of art form with wild, non-representational colours and mass-produced images.

Born in 1928 to poor Slovakian immigrants, Andy Warhol (then known as Andrew Warhola) grew up in a ghetto in Pittsburgh. At the age of eight, he suffered from a neurological disorder that left him with poor skin, thin hair and a shyness he never overcame. Warhol's first studio was his kitchen. His mother supplied him with glamorous movie magazines and colours, and encouraged this “anxious social outcast” to make collages. This period was pivotal in influencing the art form he was about to adopt in his later years.

With a portfolio of drawings in a tatty brown bag, 21-year-old Warhol moved to New York in the early 50s. His first assignment was for ‘Glamour' magazine for an article titled ‘Success is a job in New York'.

Serendipitous

Post this assignment, he worked as a commercial illustrator. He hung out in ‘Serendipity', a coffee shop, which was frequented by famous people such as Marilyn Monroe. Warhol would draw and trade his drawings for ice creams there. Steven Bruce, the owner, recognized the artist's potential and put his drawings up on the walls of Serendipity. This was Warhol's first exhibition.

He soon developed a signature style. He incorporated ‘The blotted line', a technique he learnt at college, in his drawings. He would draw an image with ink on shiny paper and transfer it to an absorbent paper lending the image a blurry, jagged effect. This technique was used in his drawings for I. Miller's shoes. By the time he turned 27, Warhol was one of the city's most sought-after commercial artists.

Warhol, who loathed artists like Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism, preferred glossy commercials and a “world of plenty”. He began working on a graphic and mechanical mode of art. He thought on the lines of mass production. He realized that he could haul elements from the commercial sphere and popular culture into art. It was then that Campbell's soup cans broke into the fine art world. In a landmark solo exhibition held in 1962, Andy Warhol presented a series of nearly identical images of Campbell's soup cans. He began to explore the power of branding and marketing through his art.

It was during this time that “Raggedy Andy” (as he was known earlier) decided to create a persona that would help him promote his art. Warhol turned to his “Andy Suit” for public appearances and wore different wigs for different moods. Overnight, he was an icon.

In the early 60s, Warhol began to work with silkscreen prints. He collaborated with Gerard Malanga, a poet and a curator. Together the two of them would work with painted photographs and silk screens, in Warhol's silver foil covered studio, ‘The Factory'. It was here that famous images of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger and Communist leader Mao Zedong were created. Warhol's art about the modern consumer world became a part of it.

Stardom

The Factory became the temple of New York's wild, underground scene. A lot of famous people hung out there. In 1963, Warhol procured a hand-held movie camera and began shooting films. His screen tests would be like moving portraits. He would ask his protagonist to simply stare at the camera for a long time.

Some of the famous people who have starred in his films include Salvador Dali, Bob Dylan and John Giorno. He made celebrities out of ordinary people. He tried to make the banal, interesting. In one of his films, Sleep, he recorded John Giorno sleeping for eight hours.

In 1967, he entered into the music industry by introducing ‘The Velvet Underground', a house band that worked from The Factory. It is said that the punk rock in the 70s owed a lot to Warhol.

In 1968, Valerie Solanis, a regular at The Factory and the founder of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) walked into his studio and shot him. The attack was near fatal. It was after this attack that he began experimenting with his series of death and disaster paintings. Like the unending flow of news reports, he recreated images of gruesome accidents and made art works out of them.

Apart from art and film-making, he also hosted a TV chat show, joined a modelling agency and started a celebrity magazine, ‘Interview'. This ‘Pope of Pop' died of post-surgical complications in 1987. His art, as he envisioned, continues to live on till this day, in a world where people are obsessed with creating brands out of themselves.

‘Modern Masters – Andy Warhol', a BBC documentary, was screened by Konangal Film Society, in association with Contemplate Art Gallery in the city recently.

Keywords: Andy Warhol