Unmasking Andy Warhol

Anibal Santos-Maldonado

Art history professor Amy V. Grimm scraped away the misconceptions of iconic pop artist Andy Warhol Monday, Sept. 17, in BST 101 at Irvine Valley College.

Warhol is known in the mainstream for being a leading force in the pop art movement during the 1960s. His collaborations and associations with high-profile artists, such as Jasper Johns, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Mapplethorpe helped make Warhol a charismatic leader in contemporary art and culture.

However few know of his humble beginnings.

“He didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth,” said Grimm. Warhol faced many prejudices against him growing up. “He didn’t come from a lot of money, but he learned to adapt in order to survive and manage.”

Andrew Warhol was born to Polish immigrants in an impoverished neighborhood in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. At an early age he contracted a rare disease which attacked his central nervous system. This left him bedridden but he entertained himself through art, drawing, comic books, and reading popular celebrity magazines.

“His language skills were stalwart and awkward, but he was unique and talented from an early age,” Grimm said. Art would help Warhol establish relations with people. “He was socially awkward. He used art to bridge the gap to people.”

After college, Warhol secured a job at Glamour Magazine. He quickly established himself as one of their most valuable artists on the staff due to his strong work ethic.

“One of the reasons he was so popular was that he worked around the clock,” Grimm said. “One example was he was asked to do an illustration of shoes and he would give 10 drawings of shoes. They absolutely loved him.”

Success as a commercial illustrator didn’t bring Warhol instant happiness. He attempted to break into fine arts, but faced many prejudices in the art world as a commercial illustrator. His homosexuality was also an obstacle for him in the 1960s, as most people didn’t want to be associated with him, including fellow artists.

“You had a better time being a Communist than being a homosexual in New York,” Grimm said.

Success came to Warhol in the form of his popular piece, Campbell Soup Cans, which brought him fame, and made him a leading force in the pop art movement.

After achieving fame Warhol’s social circle grew to knowing celebrities, but despite that, he remained a reserved individual.

“He didn’t talk much, but he liked being around talkers,” Grimm said.

Despite being around drugs throughout his career, Warhol never used them.

“He was scared of drugs and people being on drugs,” said Grimm.

Just as he was about to start a new phase in his career of using new technology (new during his time), and collaborating with rising artists such Basquiat, he died in 1987 at the age of 58.

“It was very interesting, and I liked the biographical approach. It was very eye opening,” said Sarah Wu, (Illustration). “It gives you an eye for how things were back then.”

“His artistic drive and motivation is what is interesting. He had a fear of death and doctors,” said Grimm. “His work was his bridge to people.”

Click below the links for more information on Andy Warhol:

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art

Artsy’s Andy Warhol profile page