“An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”
A progressive thinker and controversial artist and known to many as the founder of the American Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol brought forth a revolutionary take on art that played hand in hand with the Democratic youth uprising of the 1960s.
Viewed as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Warhol pushed the envelope with his diverse and eclectic assortment of what he considered art, much of which was overlooked despite the growing popularity of the pop art genre.
He is famously recognized for his pop art renditions of iconic American images: shots of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell’s Soup, and of course, the legendary Elvis Presley. But behind the cans of tomato soup and the multicolored, neon bright photos was another side to Warhol that no one was ever introduced to – until now.
Cal State Fullerton’s Visual Arts Department, through a collection of Polaroids and black-and-white photography, presents a softer and more emotional side of Warhol in “Andy Warhol: Selected Photographs and Prints from the Collection.”
Born as Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Aug. 6, 1928, Warhol exhibited a knack for the arts through photography and drawing early on during his childhood. He was bedridden for most of his childhood because of a complication with scarlet fever. An outcast among his peers, Warhol spent much of his time alone, drawing and collecting pictures of movie stars to keep his mind from dwelling on his loneliness. Later, in a 1974 interview, Warhol admitted that his childhood was a turning point, as he developed his unique personality and his preferences with art and its forms.
The work featured in the collection characterizes Warhol’s life as known by his friends, not his followers. The exhibit serves as an intimate looking-glass into Warhol’s creativity and his first love — photography.
“Walking through the gallery, it was like reading through pages of his journal or getting to know his thought process,” said CSUF first-year student Andrew Gaiz.
From the muted images of his models, numerous through the multiple angles from which they were taken, Warhol’s work process is well understood start to finish. Matt Jarvis, a guest curator to the facility, wrote that “the whole of a person is reduced in an instant to a snapshot, but not a singular snapshot, one of many, hundreds, thousands.”
The Prince of Pop Art was celebrated for his unique style, but viewed as controversial for the nature of his sex life. From a collection of his notes, Warhol thought, “sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets […] sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” He found solace in things people found boring, while feeling discontent in popular things, like relationships.
While enjoying a profitable career as a commercial artist, Warhol began to create a series of drawing portfolios and artist’s books on his own, having his first solo exhibition held in 1952. In his beginnings of being recognized as an artist, Warhol’s works included a collection of 15 drawings based on the writings of Truman Capote, which was showcased at his first event, and “One Blue Pussy” with contributions by author Ralph T. Ward.
A year later his first book “A is an Alphabet and Love is a Pink Cake” was produced, and in the following years his works were grouped with other pop artists in a collection at the infamous Musuem of Modern Art. His fame sprung about in a matter of years. At the height of his career, he formed Andy Warhol Enterprises in 1957 to house his works professionally.
“The photographs and snapshots reveal Andy Warhol’s personality and sensibility […] the Polaroids were used in preparation for his large-scale screen prints,” said Mike McGee, the gallery director of the Legacy Project, which Warhol’s collection is a part of.
McGee explains that the thick, pancake makeup worn by many of Warhol’s models makes their features appear sharp and defined, which Warhol used to then convert the Polaroids into full-color images for screenprinting. Among the models are famous persons as well – actress Tatum O’Neal and her then-husband John McEnroe are among the many featured in his work.
“The shots of these celebrities felt really personal, like I was looking through a family album,” Gaiz said.
Running from Jan. 29 through March 3, the collection features more than 200 Polaroid photos and over 50 black-and-white photographs done by Warhol. Many visitors are taken aback by the sheer amount of archival art by Warhol, while many CSUF students were impressed with the quality of the collection found at their campus. Most of the collection was donated to the arts department at CSUF in 2007 by the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program The full collection is now on display for the first time at their Begovich Gallery, located in the Visual Arts Center, free of charge.