- LAST REVIEWED: 22 June 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0031
- LAST REVIEWED: 22 June 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0031
Andy Warhol is one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century. He is known especially for his silkscreened paintings and experimental films but also for the innovative and controversial ways in which he merged the worlds of art and commerce. Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to working-class immigrants from present-day Slovakia, Warhol was a sickly child with more than a passing interest in celebrities and other mass cultural forms. He studied “pictorial design” at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon University), a series of courses that combined fine arts training with more applied skills such as commercial illustration. In 1949, Warhol moved to New York, where he established himself as a successful commercial artist, producing illustrations for clients primarily in the fashion industry. Although he had small gallery exhibitions in the 1950s with works not unlike his commercial output, Warhol began producing paintings in 1960 based on consumer goods (such as Campbell’s soup cans) and other mass media sources (such as newspaper front pages) that were widely viewed as a reaction against the seriousness, existential drama, and machismo attached to abstract expressionism. Alongside artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, Warhol was soon considered to be one of the leaders of what came to be known as pop art. But Warhol’s embrace of the photomechanical silkscreen process in 1962 differentiated him from his peers; by producing paintings through photography, he effectively removed notions of handicraft and traditional notions of authorship from his paintings. That he called his studio the “Factory,” where he produced many portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and canvasses based on press images of suicides and car accidents, only solidified this image. By the mid-1960s, Warhol had turned his attention to experimental filmmaking; his works included Empire, an eight-hour static portrait of the Empire State Building from 1964. After surviving an assassination attempt in 1968, he largely turned to making celebrity and commissioned portraits in the early 1970s as well as more commercial films and his monumental silkscreened images of Mao Zedong. In his final decade, he produced a diverse body of paintings, which continued his interest in subjects drawn from popular culture, even as Warhol became more explicit in addressing questions of abstraction in painting. He died in 1987, following routine gallbladder surgery at the age of 58. In addition to his films and paintings, Warhol’s appearance, persona, and quips (such as “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”) are widely known.
General Overviews and Biographies
A number of books provide useful overviews of Warhol’s life and work. The most comprehensive biography is Gopnik 2020, while the earlier volumes Bockris 2003 and Bourdon 1995 remain useful, especially the latter, which is generously illustrated with many color plates. Kostenbaum 2001 and Danto 2010 offer more concise biographies of the artist, each taking different departure points. Scherman and Dalton 2009 and Colacello 1990 offer lively biographic portraits of the artist during particular phases of his successful career, Scherman and Dalton 2009 in the 1960s and Colacello 1990 in the 1970s and 1980s. Hickey, et al. 2009 provides an archival and artistic overview of the artist, complete with a wealth of illustrations and short, thematic essays. Ketner 2013 is a solid, yet very brief, overview of Warhol’s entire artistic career. Warhol is not always praised; Hughes 1984 is the most thoughtful of the scathing critiques of the artist.
Bockris, Victor. Warhol: The Biography. New York: Da Capo, 2003.
Written by a Warhol friend and Factory insider, this comprehensive biography is a lively and incisive read. Its account, however, shies away from art historical issues, and it is sparsely illustrated.
Bourdon, David. Warhol. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
As a close friend to the artist and an active art critic in the 1960s and 1970s, Bourdon gives equal treatment to Warhol’s life and art. Richly illustrated with both his art works and materials from his archives, it is valuable as a biography and as an introduction to Warhol’s artistic career.
Colacello, Bob. Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Written by a former editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine, this trade volume provides keen observations and a lively, intimate portrait of the artist running the Factory in the 1970s and 1980s. Colacello explores, among other things, the artist’s social awkwardness, his business acumen, and various bits of gossip surrounding Warhol and his friends and associates.
Danto, Author C. Andy Warhol. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.
Part of Yale University Press’s Icons of America series, this short biography considers Warhol’s broad appeal, positioning his artistic works as both social criticism and philosophy.
Gopnik, Blake. Warhol. New York: Ecco, 2020.
Gopnik spent years researching and writing this book, whose enormous size and scope demonstrates its ambitions to be the definitive biography on the artist. While no biography can capture a life as rich and contradictory as Warhol’s, Gopnik should be commended for this Herculean effort. While sparsely illustrated, this is the place to start for a comprehensive account of the artist’s life.
Hickey, Dave, Kenneth Goldsmith, and David Dalton. Andy Warhol: Giant Size. London: Phaidon, 2009.
Published in two versions, a huge and cumbersome volume (weighing 15 pounds) and a more manageable “regular size,” this book features some 2,000 photographs documenting all phases of Warhol’s life and career (many of which are in color). Augmented by short essays by an array of commentators, including critic Dave Hickey and poet Kenneth Goldsmith, this volume serves as a comprehensive visual introduction to the life and work of Warhol.
Hughes, Robert. “The Rise of Andy Warhol.” In Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation. Edited by Brian Wallis, 45–58. New York: New Museum, 1984.
This is the classic take-down of Warhol, issued by one of the critical voices in the art world of the 1980s and 1990s. Hughes rebuts the idea of Warhol as a radical artist, suggesting, instead, that the artist’s obsession with fame and money, not ideas or talent, drove his practice, resulting in meaningless and empty works.
Ketner, Joseph D. Andy Warhol. London: Phaidon, 2013.
Generously illustrated with works from Warhol and other period artists, this book’s very short but incisive text considers the entirety of Warhol’s career from an art historical perspective.
Kostenbaum, Wayne. Andy Warhol. New York: Penguin, 2001.
Part of the Penguin Lives series, this slim biography by a noted poet and cultural critic purports to get beyond Warhol’s indifference to find in his life and work an erotic, queer, and deeply human body.
Scherman, Tony, and David Dalton. Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
A collaborative work of a music writer and an art writer, this biography tackles Warhol’s life and work in the 1960s. With access to his full archives in Pittsburgh, the authors chart his transformation from commercial artist to fine artist to cultural icon by the end of the decade. This is a breezy trip full of anecdotal detail, but it lacks an art historical bite.
Smith, Patrick. Andy Warhol’s Art and Films. Ann Arbor: UMI Research, 1986.
Based on extensive interviews with Warhol’s friends and associates as well as on materials in Warhol’s own archives (before the artist’s death), this text absolutely brims with biographic, contextual, and artistic details concerning all phases of Warhol’s career. The book’s appendix (longer than its text) offers verbatim transcriptions of Smith’s invaluable interviews with Warhol associates.
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