No person surprised 20th century art history more than Andy Warhol, a timid commercial artist whose fixation on Hollywood glamour and high society seemed the antithesis of his physical appearance and social graces. Yet Andy focused on what he liked, and didn’t allow the art world or society to judge him at any moment throughout his tremendous output of paintings, screen prints, films, books and magazines. Though he died at age 58, he would have turned 86 on August 6. DoYouRemember celebrates events in his life that forever changed our perception of art.
Andy Buys a Townhouse
Andy charged $100 each for his commercial drawings of shoes, hats, scarves and perfumes, and in 1959 that resulted in his highest income to date, $72,000. He was able to put down $30,000 for an Upper East Side townhouse at 1342 Lexington Avenue near 89th Street, which he lived in for 15 years with his mother, Julia, and 25 cats named Sam. Its ground floor was his studio, where he created his iconic Campbell’s Soup cans and Brillo boxes series.
Why Andy Painted a Soup Can
The idea to paint soup cans cost Andy $50. That’s what he paid interior designer and gallerist Muriel Latow in November 1961 for coming up with the concept. She also suggested painting one-dollar bills, which was the subject of his first silkscreen series.
Andy’s First Solo Pop Art Exhibition
Gallerist Irving Blum in West Hollywood offered Andy his first solo pop exhibition, which showed 32 Campbell’s soup can canvases, one of each variety. Blum teased him with the promise that “movie stars come into the gallery,” though that was far from true. He sold only five of the small paintings, each for $100, but in the time before they were picked up, Blum convinced the buyers to allow him to keep all together, and then paid $1,000 for the whole lot. A nearby supermarket mocked the exhibition with a window of soup cans, with a sign that read: “The real thing for only 29 cents a can.”
Andy’s Pop Art Paintings Debuted in a Store Window Display
Window shoppers barely noticed the first exhibition of Pop Art when Bonwit Teller mixed fashion mannequins among six Warhol paintings in its Fifth Avenue displays. Among the modern masterpieces casually strewn about for the uncaring masses that week in April 1961 were Before and After, Superman and Saturday’s Popeye.
Andy Shoots Sleep Because Everyone Is Taking Speed
In May 1961, the first mention of Andy’s underground movies appeared in the Girl Scouts’ magazine, where he’d contributed a drawing. “Andy is working on an experimental movie,” read the contributor’s blurb. The silent black-and-white art film finally arrived almost three years later. Speed was the drug of choice in those days, and so Sleep showed 310 minutes of Andy’s lover John Giorno sleeping, a condition he imagined would become extinct. Only nine people showed at the Grammercy Arts Theater premiere, two of whom left during the first hour.
Liz Taylor’s Health Scare Inspires Andy
When Liz Taylor was reported very ill on the set of Cleopatra, Andy began his series of portraits, believing they’d coincide with her death. Painted in 1963, a portrait was finally gifted to her in 1977.
“I Shot Andy Warhol,” Says Lady to a Cop in Times Square
In June 1968, Andy was pronounced dead on an operating table, having been shot three times. Both lungs were pierced as was his spleen, stomach, liver and esophagus. In that same hour, a woman went up to a cop in Times Square and confessed: “I shot Andy Warhol.” Andy’s trip to the other side was brief, and his would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas, was relentless. That Christmas Eve, the radical feminist writer called Andy from prison and threatened she’d be back unless he paid her $20,000, starred her in a movie of his, and got her on the Johnny Carson show. A judge sentenced her to a mere three years in prison (“reckless assault with intent to harm”), possibly due to the fact that Andy refused to testify against her.
Andy Liked to Watch
Andy was the ultimate voyeur. One of his superstars, Ondine, recalls their first meeting at an orgy in 1961. “It was run by a friend of mine, and I said, ‘Would you please mind throwing that thing [Warhol] out of here?’ And that thing was thrown out of there, and when he came up to me the next time, he said to me, ‘Nobody has ever thrown me out of a party.’ He said, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t give a good flying fuck who you are. You just weren’t there. You weren’t involved…’” Andy later made Ondine one of his “superstars,” and he appeared in many of his ’60s films.
Andy Cashes in on His Foot Fetish
Andy loved feet. He was obsessed them, drew them, worshipped them in every way. Case in point: In July 1961, he took a day trip to Philadelphia, the guest of art connoisseur Henry McIlhenny. While there, he sketched the feet of one of his idols, Cecil Beaton, albeit whilst the famed photographer and costume designer was napping.
Andy’s Lifelong Fear of Doctors and Hospitals
A life-long hypochondriac, Andy was scared of hospitals and doctors. His fears proved fatally correct on February 22nd, 1987, after a routine gall bladder surgery. Wanting the operation to remain private, he checked himself into New York Hospital on a weekend, and died as the result of a negligent nurse who didn’t notice fluids building up in his body, resulting in a heart attack while he slept.
About Andy’s Wig and His Last Self-Portrait
Andy’s ever-changing look revolved around his hairstyle. Which is to say, his wig was in a constant state of flux. Crafted of imported Italian hair, Andy owned over 30 of the white fluffy things. His last self-portrait series featured his new signature look, with shocks of hair standing straight up in a seemingly electrified cowlick. The London gallerist Anthony d’Offay, who had commissioned the series, said they terrified him; thereafter they were known as the Fright Wig Self-portraits. In 2010, Sotheby’s sold one of the 9-by-9-foot canvases for $32 million.