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‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’ review: A communal portrait of a lonely artist

A still from ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’

A still from ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’

The Andy Warhol Diaries, a six episode series, produced by Ryan Murphy and directed by Andrew Rossi attempts to understand the iconic artist’s greatest work – Andy Warhol himself. The documentary is based on a book of the same name, edited by Pat Hackett, which is a transcription of phone calls between the pop artist and Hackett. The book initially started out as a way for Warhol to keep a track of his expenses, and soon turned into a memoir when anecdotes and observations from the artist slipped in. 

Rossi’s recreation of Warhol’s voice using an Artificial Intelligence program, that he uses to narrate the diaries, is an extraordinary venture in the world of audio production. Though this might raise eyebrows, one can only assume that the artist, who always wanted to become like a machine, would have appreciated the effort. 

Warhol is a man of few words. Though he presented himself in an overwhelming way to the public, very little is known about him as a person. This docu-series is a mission to understand the artist behind the canvas. People close to Warhol – his friends, art historians, critics and celebrities – come together to turn the series into a collection of fascinating anecdotes about his life.

The series roughly starts after Warhol was shot at by Valerie Solanos, his acquaintance and the author of the SCUM Manifesto. It delves into the artist’s personal life after the tragic incident; his partners, his attitude towards a segregated racial America, his understanding of AIDS, and his relationship with his sexuality, and how all of these inspired his art very subtly. 

Born Andrew Warhola in a Slavic ghetto in Pittsburg, Warhol, as a young gay man in the early twentieth century, was subject to bullying and alienation. In order to cope with bullies at his school and neighbourhood, he started to draw portraits of his bullies and this marked his foray into the world of portraits. The show also touches upon the inspiration Warhol might have gotten as a child. A regular visitor to his neighbourhood church, art historians and critics who feature in the documentary suggest that the imagery of icons in the church heavily inspired his style of art – portraits of icons of his time, from Marilyn Monroe to Jackie Kennedy.

The narrative also walks the viewer through the process of Warhol’s portrait-making. From clicking hundreds of polaroids of a subject to instructing his staff about colours and shades, the archival footage featured in the series is a true treasure. It shows how Warhol brought art to the doorstep of the masses by making icons of their everyday objects, a great example of which is arguably his most famous work: Campbell’s Soup Cans.

A  still from the series

A still from the series

The series then delves into his romantic life, his partners, his relationships with them, and his understanding of his sexuality. Though the primary material of the series is Warhol, never does the viewer feel like the story is being presented only through the artist’s point of view. His friends and friends of his partners either corroborate or dismiss some of Warhol’s claims, bringing the viewer closest to the truth. The show goes on to unravel the relationship Warhol shared with Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Neo-expressionist painter, and in the process, attempts to dissect Warhol’s interpretation and understanding of race in America. Though these relationships did not grab any spotlight, and one on a cursory glance makes nothing of them, the documentary debates on how each of his relationships made their way to the canvas. 

The series also gives an insight into Warhol the businessman. The digital medium interested him very much and people close to him wonder out loud what he could have created if the internet was within his reach. There is also light shed on the AIDS epidemic that plagued America and how Warhol was surrounded by death in the last few years of his life. It documents his relationship with catholicism, how his painting of the ‘Last Supper’ came about, and his idea of death, something he said he did not believe in. 

As the series concludes, one can fathom wrapping their head around Warhol’s brilliance. His portrayal of the artist as the art, his public persona that is often in conflict with his private life, and Warhol as an event... a phenomenon even.

Even if one hasn’t heard of the icon, it is impossible to escape his imprint on contemporary culture. Critics featured in the series note that social media influencers of today walk on the path Warhol walked half a century ago. 

Though the six-part, exhaustive series is a sincere and honest effort at trying to understand the artist, the audience comes to realise that we still cannot breach the portraits drawn by Warhol to reach his true self. A close friend of his hopes it remains that way. 

The Andy Warhol Diaries is currently streaming on Netflix


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Printable version | Sep 11, 2022 11:15:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-andy-warhol-diaries-review-a-communal-portrait-of-a-lonely-artist/article65234262.ece