Even if you’re not an art historian or expert, I’d take a guess that you know who Andy Warhol is? If you haven’t heard of the celebrity stories from his iconic New York studio, The Factory, or his controversial art and antics, you’ll recognize him from his impossible-to-miss white wig!
The Pittsburgh born artist was a staple in the New York art world between the 1960s until his death in 1987, and produced many works of painting, silkscreening, photography, sculpture and film. He also left us with a new way of thinking about art: Pop. Specifically, Warhol forced us to ask: why can’t art be separate from the celebrity and popular culture images and objects that we see daily?
We think these questions are still super valid. So as you think about what you’d like to make with this month’s Smart Art Box, take a look at 5 of Warhol’s must-see portrait paintings for some inspiration!
1. Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)
In true radical Warhol style, we thought it fitting to begin with a not-so-typical portrait. The subject: Campbell’s Soup cans. Warhol’s treatment of this (inanimate) consumer item par excellence might help you understand his portraits of actual people. Perhaps the most iconic work of Pop Art, it comprises 32 canvases, each identical in size and content (well almost). Each is a painting of different variety of a Campbell’s Soup can. The screen-printing process to which Warhol was so faithful paralleled the mechanic factory production of the soup, as well as the row display of the cans in supermarkets across America. Blurring the boundaries between art, advertising and commercial products, this piece is of huge importance in 20th-century art history.
2. Marilyn Diptych (1962)
Just after Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962, Warhol made a work of art whose iconic status parallel the legend herself. Containing 50 images of Monroe (based on a 1953 publicity photo), half brightly colored and half in black and white, its repetition evokes the multiple meanings and layers to her complex persona. Although this depicts a real person, can you think about how it is similar to his Campbell’s Soup Cans? And if you happen to be in London, go have a look at it in person at the Tate Modern!
3. Eight Elvises (1963)
By now you’ve probably understood Warhol’s fascination with American celebrity culture and repetition. And who better to capture Americanness of the early 1960s than the king of rock’ n’ roll himself, Elvis Presley, in cowboy attire? Depicted in identical overlapping images, here was Elvis in all his glory! Sold for $100 million in 2008, the painting is also the maximum price ever paid for a Warhol (if you adjust for inflation)!
4. Mao (1973)
Speaking of iconic personalities… Just after Richard Nixon visited China for the first time in 1973, Warhol painted the person of the moment: Mao. The image he used came from Mao’s Little Red Book. In contrast, Warhol’s painting stands at about 15 feet tall. One of hundreds of images he made of the notorious Chinese leader, this one utilised strong, colourful brushstrokes of garish color, a stark contrast to the severe Communist regime and persona.
5. Self Portrait (1986)
No list of Warhol’s portraits would be complete without a self portrait. Painted in 1986, the year before his death, it is one of five versions, each in typical Warhol colors of green, blue, purple, yellow and red. By the end of his lifetime, the wig-clad Warhol was just as iconic as any of his famous sitters, from Marilyn to Mao.
And now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some of Andy’s must-see portraits, it’s time to create some artwork yourself! Or when you take your next selfie, do it Warhol style!! #smartartbox