Maybe Banksy comes closest to the cultural icon status that Andy Warhol held, but I doubt anyone comes close in this country. Maybe no one ever will since Warhol came to the zeitgeist when mass media was truly mass- the perfect mix of widespread reach yet limited options. If you hit it big with some staying power, then the media took care of the rest. (Let’s take a moment and acknowledge that Picasso and Dali and a few others doubtless had as much or more fame/notoriety outside the U.S., but I did not grow up there.) Warhol may have promised fifteen minutes to the rest of us, but he hung in there for a lot longer.
Was the art beside the point? Warhol’s constant flow of art during the peak of his fame was screen print after screen print, technicolor faces and consumer products more often than not. The oeuvre fit perfectly in with Roy Lichtenstein and Chuck Close. Warhol was always good for a quote. The Factory provided a home for the Velvet Underground and many transients with varying degrees of staying power, although one stayed too long and shot him.
A number of years ago, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh realized they had access to a lot of Warhol items and opened one of those rare museums dedicated to a single artist. On first blush, I’m not certain this played well with everyone who knew his name. As it turned out, the building was nearby, so we visited a number of times.
Beyond the pop artifice and the cultural persona, Warhol comes across as the son of solid, hardworking stock, even if effeminate and artistically driven. He worked his ass off producing drawings and prints. He constantly took young artists in, but he had no patience for those he deemed lazy. He may have taken the idea of studies to an extreme, but they come across as searches for the ineffable. And his mother lived with him for most of his famous years. To be in the Factory must have come with heavy expectations. Even if you only contributed to the ambiance, it meant being onstage, never off, never dull. It was work.
When all was said and done for Warhol, his life inspired one of the great rock song cycles in Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale. They speak of Warhol’s drive and the pressure he placed on them.
Another lesson few talk about with Warhol (who knew there could be so much?), was his approach to managing life’s detritus. Apparently, when his work space became too crowded to tolerate, he swept it all into a box, taped it up, and labeled it. These went into storage until the Carnegie began opening them on a cultural anthropology expedition of Manhattan in the seventies and eighties, including invitations and programs and sketches and crap. A lot can be said for regularly engaging in a personal reset button, that thoroughgoing self awareness that you have stopped giving a damn about the detritus.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 288 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.