Andy Warhol is often remembered as the father of Pop Art. He was trained as a commercial artist and worked for years for “Vanity Fair.” However, he also made films, screen tests, portraits, paintings, photos, and other works.
Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Warhol tells a lot about his essence in portraits. In “ArtPress” (April 2009), Leydier et al published an interview with curator, Alain Cueff, regarding the exhibition “le Grande Monde d’Andy Warhol” (The Grand World of Andy Warhol). Regarding the 2009 exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, Alain Cueff notes the importance of portraits in Warhol’s record.
When many think of Warhol art, they think Pop Art. Cueff notes that the Pop Art part of his career was only a small piece, consisting of works created between 1961 and 1963. According to Cueff, “Already, at the end of 1962, his ‘Suicides’ and, in early 1963, his ‘Car Crash’ works had broken with the dominant imagery. From this point onwards, right to the end, the most important thing in his work was the question of the face and the possibility of representing it.” Cueff goes on to reflect how Warhol portraits (i.e. the Marilyns) suggest a delicate balance between life and death. Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol created prints of famous celebrities, especially Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
Cueff notes Warhol’s process for making silkscreen and paint portraits in the 1960s used the powerful concept of negative space. He began with a photograph and cropped it to get the right close-up of the subject’s face. Next, he transferred the photograph image onto acetate (a clear plastic film). On this film, he corrected the person’s face. Using carbon, the facial outline was copied onto canvas. He then traced the image and underpainted the canvas with bright paint. Finally, he applied the silk screen and black ink by matching the image on the screen to the canvas image. The result was a beautiful dark image with brilliant colors beneath.
More than just a brilliant printer, photographer, and painter, Andy Warhol was a huge public icon. It was later in the 1960s after Marilyn’s death that he began to be mobbed in public. When he worked on portraits for celebrities, Warhol got what Cueff calls the “economic question” settled in the early part of a portrait session, rattling off how many thousands a client would be required to pay for the work.
Warhol led an illustrious life, crossing many social boundaries in the changing society struggling with civil rights and war. He died from the complications of gallbladder surgery in 1987 at age 59.