The 20th Century has been responsible for some of the greatest changes to the way we live our everyday lives. Fast moving technology gave us the invention of the radio at the beginning of the century to the ipod’s that we plug into today. Interior design has progressed from Formica to Ikea and ceramics from Midwinter to Moorcroft. But it is not just the products that are worthy of status, it is the talented designers that created them, without their initial vision and determination, these products would never have developed into reality and become such a huge part of the world we live in today.
One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th Century was Andy Warhol. Born Andrew Warhola, in Pennsylvania USA to Czechoslovakian emigrant’s Ondrej and Julia Warhola, his date of birth still remains a bit of a mystery. Andy always claimed that his 1930s birth certificate had been forged, but we do know that he was born between 1928 and 1931.
After graduating as a Batchelor of Fine Arts in 1949, Warhol shortened his name and started work as a commercial artist and illustrator for well-known publications like Vogue and Harpar’s Bazaar. Although foremost his career was as a commercial artist he was desperate to have his work taken seriously and to be seen as a “pure” artist.
1956 was a turning point in his career and already a well-established figure mixing with the elite in social circles, his fascination with fame, celebrities and youth led him into another period of his artistic life.
Being obsessed with celebrities (as were most people in the 1960s) he began to paint the Hollywood screen idols. The image that is so recognisable as his work today is that of Marilyn Monroe, she was Warhol’s favourite model although he did not begin to paint her until after her death. Other Hollywood screen idols that he captured during the 1960s were Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley. These paintings were so popular, celebrities endorsed them and each wanted to be painted by him.
One of his most famous images is that of the Campbells Soup Tin. He saw the heavily advertised consumer images like the soup tin worthy subjects and was right to – as this particular image has become iconic, being re-produced on many products. The most well known “The Souper Dress.” Was marketed as a throwaway item. This outfit originally cost just $1.25, and featured Warhol’s soup can images which formed a huge part of the “Pop Art” culture. An extremely rare item that if you were to find one in good condition it could cost in the region of £700 to £1,200.
Other commercial work produced during this period was Coke bottle tops, Brillo Soap Pads and Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottles. These commercial art images reflected the popular need for consumer mass production and Warhol’s ability to turn a mundane object into art thus ensuring his place in history as one of the founding members of the “Pop Art” culture.
Over the course of his career he produced thousands of different pieces and had a team of employees who reproduced his work in his studio, which he named “The Factory”. The most common method used was silkscree n painting because his art could be reproduced time after time, turning “high art” into a form of mass production.
Now anything adorning Warhol’s images is highly collected. Originals command serious money but modern day collectable items are more affordable. Most of his original works of art now sit in private collections or are on display in museums around the world. In Pittsburgh, USA is The Andy Warhol Museum, the largest American Art Museum to be dedicated to one single artists work. However, sometimes items do come up for sale. A “Little Electric Chair” pink acrylic silkscreen print sold at Christies Contemporary Art Auction in 2001. Its estimate was $430,000 to $575, 000 but it actually realised $2.3 million.
There is something for everyone in the Warhol collecting world and you don’t have to spend a fortune on an original piece as there are many companies producing his products under licence. Crystal Impressions have a range of laser etched crystal blocks in their “Prestige and Special Editions” range, you can choose from Marilyn Monroe or Elvis to the commercial images of the Campbell Soup tin to a Coca Cola bottle. Prices are far more affordable than an original piece of artwork as they start at as little as £39.95 to £49.95 each.
The sports clothing company, Adidas, recently produced a Superstar trainer as part of their “Expressions Series” to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. The “Andy Warhol” design, produced in a limited edition of 4,000 shoes sold out instantly. If you bought a pair now on the secondary market they would cost between £70 and £90.
There is even an Andy Warhol soft doll, which sells for £15, and a stunning ‘Art Opening with Andy and Edie’ Daisy doll, which is rare, and can cost £50 upwards. If this is still a little high for your pocket then you could purchase a copy of the “Velvet Underground” album for around £15 to £20, as this “Banana” cover was another famous design.
Warhol would have appreciated these interpretations of his work in modern day collectables, as he was an obsessive collector himself. Well known for frequenting the flea markets looking for bargains he was also a common face in auction houses and loved buying off of local dealers. After his sudden death in 1987 when gall bladder surgery went terribly wrong he left behind a townhouse with 30 rooms. He had only been able to live in two of the rooms because the rest were crammed full of objects that he had collected. Well known for his extensive collection of cookie jars, he also had items ranging from Tiffany Glass Lamps to a Fred Flintstone watch, celebrity autographs to his 600 time capsules, which he filled with everyday materials that reflected his life.
It is not only Andy Warhol’s work that is so recognisable but his signature is as well-known. Recently on BBC’s 20th Century Roadshow a lady brought in the 1971 “Tait” Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, Warhol had initialled some of the pages and the Expert authenticated it with a value of £750. Be careful though when buying signed works because his signature was easily copied. If you do want to invest in an authentic piece, be it a poster or a magazine that has been signed always take time to look at the paper and printing style. Anything genuine will be at least 20 years old, so don’t buy unless there is reliable provenance and the dealer is reputable.
Andy Warhol was a legend in his own lifetime and his work took on many different directions throughout his career – taking art and design i nto another dimension. He was one of the few artists that were as popular as his subjects and has always remained in fashion with the retro “pop art” era being so sought after today.
He lived the American Dream and more than fulfilled his well-known motto of “famous for fifteen minutes.” His work crossed media from film making to writing and even his own television show. His style has influenced everything from advertising to today’s modern artists. When he died in 1987 he left behind a legacy of work for us all to treasure.
· The media referred to Andy Warhol as the Prince of Pop.
· 1952 was his first one-man exhibition at the Hugo Art Gallery in New York.
· He founded “The Factory” in 1962.
· Warhol made over 300 Underground Films, the first of which was called “Sleep” and simply showed a man asleep for 6 hours.
· In 1968 Valerie Solanis shot him in the chest, she was an ex-employee at “The Factory”. Although escaping with his life, Warhol had to wear a bandage for the rest of his life.
www.warhol.org – for the Andy Warhol Museum in USA.
www.warholfoundation.org – for the Andy Warhol Foundation in USA.