"Dogs look up to men, cats look down on them,
but pigs just treat us as equals."
-Winston Churchill

Cover: The Philosophy of
Andy Warhol, 1975. Today,
signed first editions fetch
upwards of $7000 USD.

Few artists have achieved the level of fame in their lifetime as Andy Warhol did. In his relatively brief career spanning just over a quarter of a century, he made an impact on a multitude of mediums, including art (commercial and "pop"), film, stage and fashion. Warhol had a look all his own, which he carefully cultivated into one of the world's most recognizable personas, perhaps second only to Jackie O. To many, he was a star-struck boy from Pennsylvania; to others, a star-maker. The truth is probably somewhere in-between, but one thing is for certain about Warhol: He played the fame game better than any of them.

Andy Warhol, 1928-1987: Commerce into Art
by Klaus Honnef
Benedikt Taschen, 1990
ISBN: 3-8228-0293-X
$16.00, 96 pp

Klaus Honnef is the exhibition curator for the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn. Operated by the Rhineland Landscape Association, the museum's focus is on antiquities, making Honnef an unlikely choice as Warhol's biographer. Whatever he lacks in expertise on twentieth century artists though, he makes up for with a foundation in journalism and sociology, the latter an essential when writing about a chameleon such as Andy Warhol.

Warhol had humble beginnings. Born Andrew Warhola on June 6, 1928 in Forest City, PA to immigrant parents, he has been followed by controversy ever since. Even his actual date of birth has been debated in the press and art circles, Warhol making the claim that the information on his birth certificate (which recorded the year as 1930) had been forged. General consensus has since settled on 1928 as his birth year.

As a child, Warhol set his sights on a grander existence than could be provided by Forest City. He dreamed of fame and New York City from the get-go. In 1945 he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Pittsburgh) working summers and holidays in a department store where he gained a foundation in advertising art (ads and display) which would play big in his eventual rise to prominence in the Sixties Pop art movement. (At the time, 'Pop' was barely as yet a coined art term.) 1962 brought Warhol his first big break: The original Campbell's soup series. Vying with Roy Lichenstein for fame and fortune, Warhol (like Lichenstein) incorporated iconic comic strip characters in his early work, dressing the windows of New York clothier Bonwit Teller with the strip-themed paintings. At the time, Roy Lichenstein was just branching out into comics as well, and got the drop on him. Whereas Lichenstein's paintings became ubiquitous with Pop, Warhol all but abandoned his own comic-themed pursuits.

The Sixties were wild times in New York. The drug scene aside, the culture lent itself to trying new things, and breaking established rules. Warhol founded "The Factory", a hybrid of communal experimentation and commerce, in which he mass produced pieces with a staff of the willing, barely touching the actual pieces himself. It seemed like a totally new and unkosher means to produce art - marrying America's love of mass consumption with the creativity of producing art - and proved a rousing success. Before long, The Factory branched out into film and other mediums, - even a magazine that's still going strong today - becoming a hub for the kind of off-the-beaten-track productions Warhol is lauded for. But as Honnef notes, the method of production which Warhol is credited with inventing, is not original. Rather, it is just uncommon, noting that Rubens had employed the "factory" concept in his day. Back then it was widely accepted that for a painting to pass itself off as genuine, "the Renaissance painters themselves only had to paint the most important parts of [it], such as the face of the Madonna, while they left the rest of the fresco or picture to their assistants."

Conventional wisdom tells us stars are made in Hollywood. But Warhol, a star-maker himself, created them under the vaulted ceilings of his factory. Although his films (Women in Revolt, 1971; Sleep, 1964) were considered camp and experimental, respectively, stars such as John Giorno, Divine and Candy Darling owe their careers to them. Director John Waters (Pink Flamingos, 1972; Polyester, 1981; Hairspray, 1988) got his start in The Factory as well. Though Warhol's films had a cult appeal to them, they made compelling statements about society's norms that continue to influence our attitudes today. Where, for instance, would the LGBTQ community - and its collateral impact - be today without Divine?

Backstory aside, the strength of Andy Warhol, 1928-1987: Commerce into Art lies with the plethora of reproductions it contains. Honnef does an outstanding job covering Warhol's various periods. To many, the artist is viewed as periodless, all the paintings of his career lumped together in a single category: Pop. But as Honnef points out, there are clear periods to his art, beginning with his early pieces of commercial illustrations, which he later incorporated into early screen prints. He had his gruesome period of "shock art", in which he ripped sensational headlines from the tabloids, reproducing them to greater effect by enlarging them (along with their shock value) in a rudimentary process of screen printing. Then there was his famous Campbell's soup series, which turned common household products into a uniquely American form of iconography, after which he branched out into the portraits of iconic Hollywood stars for which he is known today.

      "If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out."

Andy Warhol died February 22, 1987, the result of gall bladder surgery . . . we think. With two versions (at least) of the actual date and cause, today February 22 is commonly accepted as the date of his expiration. Even in death - as in life - the artist remains an elusive chameleon. Whether he was a narcissistic star fucker, artistic genius, or both, one thing is indisputable: In his lifetime, Andy Warhol was at the top of his game.

by Andy Warhol
Random House, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-241-33980-0
$1.50, 56 pp

In 1975 The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: A to B and Back Again (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99) was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Part biography, part tabloid interview, the Manhattan-based artist shares his thoughts on love, fame, jewelry and Mussolini Stadium, among other things. A non-conformist, Warhol lived his life as he pleased, shocking the conventional while drawing out the less conformed to society's norms. He was, in the sense of Oscar Wilde's definition of the term, wicked: "Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." In 2018, Penguin Modern published Fame, a compilation of choice excerpts from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. It is number 47 in the series which strips select artists, activists and writers down to their basal elements for a succinct presentation of where they're coming from. It's kind of like Reader's Digest meets Inside the Actor's Studio, without James Lipton.

Fame is divided into three chapters, each singularly focused on a topic: Love (Senility), Beauty, and Fame. The chapters feature Warhol quipping on-topic, while arriving to his point by a circuitous route that is often difficult to follow. It is quintessential Warhol.

The artist may be most famous for a remark he made about fame, when he stated, "in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." This concept has become so universal with notoriety, that when some joe schmoe makes headlines for doing something stupid, we respond with, "What a waste of their fifteen." Warhol had other ideas too about fame and its trappings. On giving live interviews, he was out of his element, although that never stopped him: "Certain people have TV magic: they fall completely apart off-camera . . . I never fall apart because I never fall together. I just sit there saying 'I'm going to faint. I'm going to faint.'" But he never does.

On beauty, Warhol held strong opinions. Just as everyone was due their fifteen minutes in the limelight, so too, everyone was a beauty; potentially: "Beauty really has to do with the way a person carries it off." When it came to celebrity, Warhol seemed obsessed with it, even when it came to his own death. He purportedly mused about being reincarnated as "a big ring on Pauline de Rothschild's finger," like someone unaware of their own status. That theme raises its head throughout Fame: a puzzling lack of self-awareness.

It's Warhol's obsession with fame that perpetuates an image of shallowness; gives the perception he's a dilettante. Each chapter re-enforces our impression of him as being obsessed with fame for fame's sake; wealth for the sake of wealth. In a sense, he's the ultimate poster child of the Me Generation. Yet, in his words, the shaping of his own mythology, there comes through in his voice a note of naivete'. When reflecting on marriage, he states "My ideal wife would have a lot of bacon, bring it all home, and have a TV station besides." And, "I always thought that movies could show you so much more about how it really is between people . . ." Is he just being clever, or are these statements the product of an arrested psyche? On having children, his thoughts have a bit more profundity: "I always knew that I would never get married, because I don't want any children, I don't want them to have the same problems that I have. I don't think anybody deserves it." The words smack of insecurity and self-loathing.

Andy Warhol will perhaps always remain an enigma. For some, he was the impish boy who never grew up; a Peter Pan for the ages. For others, an inexplicable A-lister in art and film. Perhaps, as an artist, remaining a mystery in the face of stardom was his greatest accomplishment: the art of the lie. Which brings to mind another quote credited to Oscar Wilde: "If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out." Warhol died in 1987, shortly after having gall bladder surgery. He was 58.

posted 11/23/21