Andy Warhol’s remarkable journey from son of humble, uneducated Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants to arguably the most important artist of the second half of the twentieth century began in the industrial city of Pittsburgh. The two decades Warhol spent there proved formative in his artistic development and eventual evolution to a leading figure of the American Pop Art movement.
Particularly important was Warhol’s avid consumption of Hollywood cinema and products of its publicity machine (such as fan magazines and movie stills). Equally so was both his juvenile artistic experimentation and religious experience.
Warhol’s role of “stargazer” was apparent in the multitude of Hollywood stars that are subjects in his early phase of Pop. Imagery in this was drawn from the extensive collection of Hollywood publicity shots that he started collecting in childhood. The sheer glamour of Hollywood as well as the mystique of stardom made a lasting impression on Warhol, fostering in him a heightened understanding of the mechanics of fame as well as the allure it afforded its subjects.
Printing techniques – first hand-cut stencils and then photo silkscreens – were the mainstay of Warhol’s Pop Art practice and his assault on traditional high art ideals, especially notions of uniqueness and distinctions between original and copy. These ideas were present in his youthful experimentation in the transference and duplication of images, including those drawn from readymade sources.
It can also be argued that the religious icons decorating the St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church, that Warhol attended regularly with his devoutly religious parents, had a profound impact on his art. The frontal and transcendental compositions of these would later come to characterise Warhol’s uncompromising brand of Pop. They also gave maximum immediacy to and (somewhat ironically) conferred dignity upon banal subjects of mass consumption such as Campbell’s soup cans and coke bottles.
Learn more about Warhol’s early years in Pittsburgh from Dr Sylvia Harrison when she speaks alongside Dr Rodney Taveira as part of A Tale of Three Cities, a three part lecture series starting on Saturday 13 February, 2016 with Where it began – Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh.