Warhol changed what we thought of as ‘painting’…
Transmitting Andy Warhol explores how the artist embraced the mass mediums of his time – from publishing and film to music and broadcast – to transmit his ideas to as many people as possible. But where did his desire to expand how his art was made public originate? It’s tempting to think that it came to him in a flash of inspiration, or a dream, when in fact up until the early 1960s Warhol had earned his living as a highly sought after graphic artist; many of the techniques he became famous for, such as blotted-line drawing and silkscreen painting, were a direct transfer from his time in the commercial sector. It took a singular talent such as Warhol to spot that painting’s perceived limitations could be brushed aside.
And then ‘abandoned’ it
This genius of Warhol’s to subvert convention wouldn’t end with his approach to painting. In 1963 he acquired his first motion picture camera, a hand held 16mm Bolex, and shortly after he claimed an ‘abandoning’ of painting. Disingenuous this claim might have been but his expansion into filmmaking was no passing jaunt. Between 1964 and 1968 the artist was particularly prolific, producing literally hundreds of films of varying length and style. One such film, Empire 1964, his eight-hour, static-shot of New York’s most recognisable skyscraper, is included in the exhibition at Tate Liverpool. A fact of note is that, rather than Warhol, it was another filmmaker, that ‘Godfather of American avant-garde cinema’, Jonas Mekas on camera operating duty that day.
Warhol: video pioneer
1965’s Outer and Inner Space demonstrates a flair for innovation and instinctive opportunism. Starring Edie Sedgwick, the New York socialite whose movie star looks and fashion sense led to her becoming one of Warhol’s most celebrated ‘Superstars’, the film, made in August that year, is interesting for a variety of reasons. Not least because it is thought to be the first documented use of videotape by an artist, beating the renowned multi-media artist Nam June Paik to that accolade by a matter of months. Paik’s Electronic Video Recorder exhibition premiered in October 1965.
Warhol the magpie
Of the works Warhol is most associated with, among the most iconic (and reputedly Warhol’s favourite – indeed, Campbell’s Soup I 1968 is just one of many iterations) are his Campbell’s soup cans. But how did he come to produce them, and why? In the early 1960s Warhol had begun to experiment with comic strips and newspaper advertisements, but on seeing Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoon and comic-inspired pictures in the artist’s first solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962, Warhol knew he would have to think again. A friend suggested he choose something everybody recognised, like Campbell’s soup! Eventually Warhol decided that he would paint one of each of the varieties of the famous brand.
Andy and Marcel
For some, pop art wasn’t art at all; more passing, shallow novelty, but Warhol received support from a kindred spirit. Marcel Duchamp, that enfant terrible of a previous generation, said: ‘If you take a Campbell soup can and repeat it 50 times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is that concept that wants to put 50 Campbell soup cans on a canvas.’ Their mutual respect led to Duchamp, at 78, sitting for a Warhol Screen Test (a silent filmed portrait). Plans of working together further were unfortunately curtailed by the Frenchman’s death in 1968, aged 81.
The Velvet years
In 1966 Warhol unleashed on an unsuspecting world his expanded cinema experience the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, an audio-visual barrage which introduced rock and roll to the ‘total art-work’; a central component of which was Factory house-band the Velvet Underground. Adding German model-turned-chanteuse Nico into the mix, Warhol’s role was three-fold. Not only did he design the now-iconic cover art for their eponymous debut release The Velvet Underground & Nico 1967, he would also serve as the band’s manager and producer.
Warhol, conciliatory figure?
Although sacked as manager of the band shortly after (owing mainly to increasingly tense relationships), Warhol left an indelible mark on the careers of VU founder members John Cale and Lou Reed. The pair spoke for the first time in years following Warhol’s unexpected death in 1987, and the meeting spawned a tribute album of sorts: Songs for Drella 1990. Riffing on a splicing of Dracula and Cinderella, Drella was a nickname for Warhol popular with many of the artist’s hangers on (though, unsurprisingly, not so much with the Andy himself!). A memorial to Warhol, the concept album marked the pair’s first genuinely collaborative effort since the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat 1968.
RIP? Not quite…
Want to visit Warhol’s grave from the comfort of your keyboard? Thanks to the interactive cemetery webcam, you can! A collaboration between The Andy Warhol Museum and St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church, means a visit to Andy Warhol’s grave – via livestreaming webcam – is just a click away. The website even encourages that we ‘remember Andy’, can ‘send flowers’ and ‘see them delivered’. Ghoulish it may be, but thanks to the innovative exploitation of technology involved, we can’t help but think Andy would approve…