Sunday, February 5, 2023


Andy Warhol, by turns a renowned artist, counter-cultural figurehead and inventor of our modern notion of celebrity, has to my surprise only appeared three times on this website so far: regarding the endless reproduction of Arnold Machin’s image of Queen Elizabeth II on British postage stamps [link]; as an associate of the iconic artist Keith Haring [link]; and as a man whose career changed when he painted his lunch [link]. Having now belatedly watched “The Andy Warhol Diaries”, a Netflix series I should have known about much earlier, I feel I need to review that latter article, written back in September 2016, because I am not entirely sure of the point I wanted to make.

In the article, I explained that Warhol ate the same lunch of Campbell’s Condensed Soup and Coca-Cola for twenty years, presumably saving thinking time. In an act of “method writing”, I ate the same lunch, finding it not to sustain through to dinner time. I think I was trying to say the whole move could be counterproductive, if that indeed was what Warhol was doing.

Rather than painting what surrounded him, Warhol was responding to a friend’s suggestion to paint objects already familiar to people. In the event, the reaction to the first Coca-Cola and Campbell’s paintings was either bemusement or outrage – I tried to point out that making the individual objects by hand, from mixing the drink and cooking the soup, through to blowing the glass bottle and printing the labels, would be extremely difficult. This may be the kernel of my article, having a point to make, and building a case surrounding it, using names well-known to people, particularly that of Warhol.

I then quoted from “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”, where he stated that what made the United States great was how it “started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest… the more equal something is, the more equal it is”. This feeds into Pop Art being based in the use of imagery from popular culture, and in the democracy of art as the levelling of a playing field – anything can become art. It’s a good point worth making, but only because we have seen how this is developed into works like Damien Hirst’s embalmed shark, and Tracey Emin’s unmade bed.

I would try not to write the last sentence of the article today: “For Andy Warhol, having had his first successful art show, he could concentrate on pictures of what he enjoyed the most – soup, Coca-Cola, money and celebrity.” The parodic, postmodern incarnation of celebrity of classical Hollywood celebrity pioneered by Warhol’s Factory of paintings, films and actors, and continued in one sense by video content creators from their home studios, makes the process transparent – interviews with Warhol always looked for profound replies, only to be met by a banal reply that could be misinterpreted as superficial. We know enough about Warhol, especially from his Diaries, to now there was a three-dimensional person behind the image he created, and the business his art was produced. The human drive to create, and to remain vital, loom large in Warhol’s career, the celebrity and money being the reward.

I'll have a better article about Warhol in due course, once I think of a better idea.

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