Since we are in the second lockdown, some of you may have missed out on the great exhibition at Tate Modern showcasing Andy Warhol’s artwork. Luckily, I was able to explore it and will share my thoughts and photographs with you in this post!
Such a popular artist, who reimagined art at a time of huge social, political and technological change is always of interest, wether you like his style or not.
Today, DOYOUSPEAKLONDON tells you everything about Andy Warhol’s retrospective at The Tate!
Andy Warhol at The Tate Modern
American artist Andy Warhol (born Andrew Warhola, 1928–1987) is so popular that we can only expect everyone to know about him but actually some parts of his life are still unclear or ignored to the public (also because cultivated his public identity). So let’s dive into Andy Warhol’s life!
His art is often limited to the creation of the visual art movement called Pop Art, nevertheless Andy Warhol started his career as a commercial illustrator when he moved to New York at the age of 21.
This is when he dropped the “a” from his surname and defined his own style by 1/ having his nose reshaped by cosmetic surgery (Warhol had always been very self-conscious about his physical appearance) and 2/ decided to wear wigs (trying different shades of blond hair to finally opt for a silver grey colour). An icon was born!
The first room of the exhibition was dedicated to some of his initial drawings, which I discovered there. I found his “simple” (lets say minimalist, not to appear too pedantic!) line drawings very efficient and they reminded me of those made by French artist Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) whom I really admire.
Warhol’s mum (who lived with him for almost 20 years!) helped him with the illustrations and participated in some projects of books. They had a perfect artistic complicity (it does not say about the rest :-)) which I become aware of very recently at the Halcyon Gallery, where some of their common work was presented (I remember a book about cats!!!).
The rise of Pop Art
Although Warhol was quite successful as an illustrator, he wanted then to be considered as a true artist.
This is when he created a graphic form of art combining “advertising imagery with expressive painting”: Pop Art was born!
In 1962 he started the commercial production technique of screen painting, allowing him to reproduce his paintings many times.
Andy Warhol explained that his pop art paintings were all about popular culture (hence the name Pop Art), which refers to accessible brands like Coca Cola or Campbell’s soups (accessible to all, with no discrimination), pop stars and the clothes people like to wear..
He said that whatever their social status, all Americans drink coca-cola or admire the same pop stars, which makes them equal in a way.
Pop Art was also meant as “art for all”.
Marilyn Monroe was the first pop star to be reproduced with this technique. About repetitions Warhol said: “The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.”
On this screenprint “Double Marlon“, Warhol left a raw part on the canvas to “question the meaning of the painting (with the association of photography) and underline his attraction for abstract painting”. Warhol obviously explored all possibilities offered by the screen painting and was already on his way to opening to new techniques.
Warhol created The Factory in 1963 (with 3 different successive locations in New York), whose name was a reference to mass production and consumerism. It was an experimental art studio and a social space, where many artists and personalities were invited provided that they respect some rules (for example they had to show up every day, or they would be fired).
Video of Andy Warhol’s Factory by The Tate Modern
Warhol’s former lover Billy Name covered the whole studio in silver paint and foil, as reproduced in this room at The Tate (video above).
The Factory was the place where Andy Warhol experimented many visual techniques. In particular he made lots of videos and “film portraits” of personalities spending time at The Factory, which we could see in this room. The place had become “a form of living artwork”.
From 1965, Warhol decided to focus on film making, definitely retiring from painting.
What is less well-known about Warhol is that he was fascinated by all new media and published magazines (including “Interview”), posters, books and also designed record covers. He was prolific in all kinds of visual arts…
On 3rd June 1968, writer Valerie Solanas, who had taken part in the Factory’s life (appearing in one of Warhol’s film: I, a man) shot Warhol in the chest and abdomen, severely damaging his internal organs. He was declared clinically dead but survived.
Valerie Solanas claimed Andy Warhol was stealing her ideas and after the shooting she wrote a manifesto, SCUM, “to call for an end to the male sex and capitalist society”…which curiously resonates with our current social debates!
After the shooting, Warhol was not exactly the same person. It had affected both his mental and his physical heath. He put an end to the open-door policy of The Factory, had difficulties eating and became extremely nervous in front of new people.
Last period: back to painting
Andy Warhol came back to painting in the 1970s, with new models, larger screen prints and a more expressive painting style.
He started with the Mao series (1972), inspired by US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China. It was a political act as Mao Zedong was the ultimate political symbol at the time and Warhol turned this icon into a mass-production commodity. Andy Warhol created a series of 10 brightly coloured portraits to voluntarily combine communist publicity with American kitsch and thus incite us to question the role of art in politics.
Warhol painted other subjects like skulls, commonly used as a reminder of inevitable death and also suggesting they could belong to anyone… (again – the equality proned by Pop Art).
Warhol also referred to trans people in his art, as well as he chose to represent the Statue of Liberty or even Lenin (the last 2 as iconic symbols) in his paintings.
He also made portraits of personalities like Debbie Harris or Mick Jagger…
One of his last creations was “Sixty last suppers”, a large-scale work of a series commissioned in 1986 and based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
The repetition of the scenes evokes the re-enactment of the Last Supper that takes place during every Mass.
Warhol’s artwork purely refers to symbolism.
Warhol had an operation (gallbladder surgery) that went well, but his death was due to his long term ill health, which led to a heart failure.
Andy Warhol died in New-York on 22 February 1987.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found inspiration here. If you are planning to go to The Tate Modern when it reopens (either to explore the permanent collection or visit an exhibition), please share your experience and opinion on DOYOUSPEAKLONDON’s blog!