Who is Andy Warhol?
Five thousand-plus people show up to see the Andy Warhol Portraits exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum during First Friday. Museum-goers of all ages talk excitedly about the exhibition as they wander through it. Andy Warhol is a part of American culture and his work stands the test of time. His work may recognizable or his name but who is he? Christian Adame, associate curator for education at the museum said, “Many know of him but not about him.”
The Pittsburgh, Penn. born artist was obsessed by film stars from childhood and continued to be throughout his life. His favorite childhood actress was Shirley Temple who, like him, was born in 1928. He received an autographed photo of her and ‘greatly treasured it. Warhol, who started out as a commercial artist, became famous for his artwork of celebrities and everyday objects, such as Campbell’s soup can, Coca Cola bottles, and sculptures of Heinz Catsup boxes. He also became noted for his trademark wigs, which were originally brown like his natural hair but gradually became white. He directed underground and experimental films like “Chelsea Girls” and “Trash” and managed “The Velvet Underground,” which became one of the most influential iconic bands of the ‘60s. Warhol became the darling of the ‘60s Avant-garde movement.
Who was more famous, Warhol the artist or Warhol the personality?
Tomi Johnston, Paradise Valley Community College art history faculty, believes he is still an influence on today’s culture, but everyone might not realize it. Johnston said, “I recently asked a class of mine if they had ever heard the quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” They all knew the quote but not a single one of them knew where it came from.
Warhol more popular today?
Adame believes Warhol is more popular today and said, “Whether everyone likes or dislikes his work is irrelevant, but they can see his influence or popularity.”
Scottsdale art teacher Julie Price-Thiede, who discovered Warhol as a child, agrees his popularity has grown. She said, “It is because we now celebrate diversity and the individual.” She finds his work is timeless.
One person who does dislikes Warhol’s work is British resident Owen Hunter, 24. He saw the art when he toured New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He feels he is only popular because he aligned himself with the iconography of his time.
Others like Warhol’s art because of his bold colors and mastery of color manipulation in his portraits. Cecelia Contreras, PVCC Social Behavior secretary, explained she has always been attracted to his rich colors and the portraits of multiples with different backgrounds and colors.
His cult-like personality also helps his growing popularity. Student Shufeldt of PVCC said, “He did something well and sold it well, in due part to pop-culture and his own eccentricities.”
Andy relevant today?
We live in a seflie and social media culture as well as a celebrity obsessed one. Photographer and artist Hanover believes Warhol would like today’s selfie culture “because it’s SO amateur and so Pop Culture of yesterday and tomorrow.”
Johnston agrees and said, “Much of his work centered around celebrity culture and manipulating images of those he admired or in whom he had an interest,” said Johnston.” I think in many ways we are fulfilling the vision and prophecy of Warhol, which makes him more relevant now than ever before.”
Hanover also finds the celebrity portraits relevant today and said, “Andy’s smaller and dynamic celebrity portraits were fresh and still are, but the genius of the process is that he got the celebrities to pay and also sold copies.”
Kathy Tapia, PVCC financial aid tech, also believes Warhol is relevant today and said, “I think his multi-facet and multi-dimension approach is applicable in today’s society. The need to present every aspect of our lives via multiple lenses is what Andy Warhol introduced to the world.”
Another reason he is so popular is his recognizable distinct style that fits in with today’s contemporary culture. Nathan Hill, PVCC student and ambassador, said, “This decade ‘pop’ is in: bright colors, fearless expression — those are the ways of art in this time that we live in.”
Johnston thinks Warhol can inspires us. He came from immigrant parents that were poor; he was very shy and overcame a physical disability. Warhol, openly gay when it was not acceptable, rose to fame on the shirttails of his commercial art. The art world elitists looked down upon him. Johnston said, “In the face of all those disadvantages, he managed to create a career, social circle and culture that nurtured him. His is a story that should empower all of us.”
“Andy’s one of my art heroes,” said Hanover. He thinks what we can learn from Warhol is “to just do” or “just be it” and not worry about the critics.”