Let's Learn From the Past: Andy Warhol

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A prominent painter, filmmaker and writer, Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol was one of the most influential artists of his generation and helped to pioneer the pop art movement. Warhol’s adoration for the ordinary, infused with his unique craft, allowed him to develop his iconic style and create artwork that was extraordinary.

Born Andrew Warhola on Aug. 6, 1928, he grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Oakland and lived with his parents, who were Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, and his two older brothers.

Andy attended the nearby Holmes Elementary School and took free art classes at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art) throughout his early years.

He entered Schenley High School in 1942, the same year his father died. Recognizing Warhol’s artistic talents at a young age, his father had devoted his life savings to pay for his son’s college education.

Warhol attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1945 and graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in pictorial design.

Soon after graduating, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in magazine illustration and advertising. After his work debuted in Glamour magazine, he achieved tremendous success as a commercial artist, winning numerous awards.

In 1962, Warhol gained national attention when he disposed of his paint brush and adopted the silk-screen technique. He mass-produced images of American consumer goods, conventional objects, and contemporary celebrities, displaying them in a variety of versions and colors, a style that became his trademark.

Warhol received notoriety for his “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series when it debuted in New York City and Los Angeles. As his popularity soared, he received hundreds of commissions from wealthy socialites, musicians and film stars. This spurred the release of a large sequence of entertainment and political figure portraits, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Between 1963 and 1968, Warhol created hundreds of films, employing his friends as actors and referring to them as his “superstars.” His films, mostly produced at his New York studio, known as “The Factory,” were improvised and ranged from simple narratives to sexploitation features.

In 1969, Warhol co-founded Interview, a magazine devoted to film, fashion and popular culture, and also self-published a series of books based on transcribed conversations.

Warhol died from complications following gall bladder surgery in 1987 and is buried at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park.

Warhol’s success and the rise of post-modern art spawned a new generation of young artists, including fellow Pittsburgh native Burton Morris, whose pop art draws inspiration from the bold and colorful perspectives of Warhol’s creative works.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can view more than 100 original works of Mr. Morris’ art as part of the “Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris” exhibition, which is the first retrospective of the Pittsburgh native’s career as an internationally recognized pop artist. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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