Warhol Essay

life and work of Andy Warhol has inspired many writers to tell of the artist’s
secrets in published writings. However, Carter Ratcliff accomplishes this feat
in a unique fashion, profiling Warhol’s work in Andy Warhol. A must-read for
anybody interested in the origins of American Pop art, Ratcliff’s book touches
on all aspects of Warhol’s work. Segmented chronologically, Ratcliff explains
the influence and significance of select paintings, as well as sections devoted
to Warhol’s sketches, photographs, movies and notes on the techniques used by
the artist. This format, combined with the inclusion of nearly 100 prints of
paintings, is effective because a natural theme flows through the chronological
ordering of the monograph. Some of the influences are obvious in Warhol’s
work. However, the cumulative effect of the artist’s attempts is more easily
understood through the chronological ordering of the pieces. The chronological
ordering helps the reader understand what social or personal beliefs or
conflicts the artist was dealing with pertaining to the given time period. For
example, Warhol produced many pieces with singular subject matter displayed
multiple times as in his Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and dollar
signs, possibly just comforting symbols to Warhol as well as the American Pop
Culture. Also, Ratcliff leads the reader on a journey through the details,
effects and consequences of the work. The author also describes similarities in
select Warhol pieces. The development of Warhol as an artist is easily
understood using this format, as his work transforms from the playful character
of Saturday’s Popeye (Figure 1) to the realism of Skull or the political power
of the Hammer and Sickle series. Andy Warhol takes a convincing and
comprehensive look at the pursuits of the artist, basing observations on a
plethora of sources. The information cited in each section is a cumulation of
Ratcliff’s investigation, interviews with Warhol and references to the
writings of other critics. Basing his survey largely in the ideas of others,
Ratcliff discovers little original information. Referring to such credible
contacts as Robert Rosenblume’s description of Julia Warhola [1], saying that
Warhol’s portrait of his mother breaks through the artists “aestheticism”
to convincing emotion (Figure 2). Art critic Thomas Lawson’s notion that Pop
art has everything to do with nothing [2], or Warhol’s own magazine article,
Crazy Golden Slippers [3], are examples of the type of solid sources that the
author utilizes in his work. The majority of Ratcliff’s ideas originate
elsewhere, however Ratcliff chose to use these many sources to support his own
theories, drawing from established and accepted concepts to uphold his
statements. The prize of Andy Warhol lies in the inclusion of the author’s
essay about the artist. Together with the effect of the many large prints, which
comprise a majority of the body of the book, the essay enables the reader to
learn about the artist and reflect on what may have been his intention for
select works. To fully understand a work of art it is helpful to have some
background information about the work and the artist. The author does a
fantastic job of presenting this type information about the artist and his work.

Warhol was obsessed with the idea of stardom, controversial works pertaining to
popular culture and the use of images from every day life or symbols of such.

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Ratcliff, when compared to other writers who investigated Warhol, has an edge on
the competition. Ratcliff not only describes the work itself, but also tells of
the concept behind the art. Cantz’ The Last Supper is at best a glorified
picture show of the artist’s work. The artist focuses on one series of
paintings rather then on the entire portfolio.[4] Unseen Warhol is an in depth
biography of Andy Warhol, not much attention is granted to the actual pieces of
art.[5] Ratcliff’s Andy Warhol fills the gap left by other writers. Ratcliff
delivers a complete analysis of Warhol’s work by explaining the concepts and
ideas surrounding the work in an intensive manner. Ratcliff’s thoughts on many
of the pieces help to define the actual meaning or ideas of the work in a
practical fashion. For example, the use of helium filled mylar, covered with
foil in Silver Pillows (Figure 3) served as a way of making his paintings on the
wall come to life and float away.[6] Drawing comparisons from the periods of
Pre-Pop art, Pop art, and Post-Pop art, Ratcliff attempts to classify Warhol’s
work in Andy Warhol. Commercial art including the title page for In The Bottom
of My Garden, album jackets commissioned by RCA, book jackets for New Directions
and Warhol’s famous I. Miller shoe advertisements became the focus of the
Pre-Pop art period, also called the period of Consumerism by Warhol. Shifting to
the Pop art period Warhol labels his art as “all surface with nothing
beneath”.[7] The transition to Pop culture from Consumerism may have been
influenced by the emptiness in Warhol’s work. The artist seems to have
completed his projects as if he was commissioned to do the work, painting
without a sense of feeling. The idea that Warhol only looked at his paintings
for their face value is evident in such works as the do-it-yourself images
(Figure 4) and Campbell’s soup cans, which appear to be commercial works of
art, however they were part of Andy’s private collection. Warhol’s Death and
Disaster series brought about muddled reviews from the public. The artist may
have been equating the empty electric chair (Figure 5) combined with car-crash
images to highway death as a form of execution, or he may have been merely
trying to portray these symbols of death as strong controversial statements, to
raise interest in his work. Death is the common bond that moves us from the Pop
era to the Post Pop era. On the third of June in 1968, Warhol was shot several
times by Valerie Solinas, founder and sole member of S.C.U.M. (Society for
Cutting Up Men). Warhol was pronounced dead on the operating table, however, he
was able to fully recover nearly two months later. During this period Andy said”everything is such a dream to me…I don’t know whether or not I’m really
alive or whether I died.”[8] This near death experience must have been
Warhol’s ultimate feeling of emptiness. Emptiness seemed to be a
characteristic that carried Warhol into the Post Pop era, as evident by the
artist’s use of very pale (almost white) pigments to produce the faces of Paul
Jenkins and Leo Castelli their respected portraits. Warhol also continues his
Death and Disaster series during this period. Warhol created his collective
works in an iconic style, which Ratcliff points out throughout the text. The
Campbell’s soup can, dollar signs, and Gold Marilyn express examples of
Warhol,s personal iconography of everyday figures that he brought to his work.

Ratcliff is unique in mentioning such tools as his blotted ink line or use of
symbols to the work of Warhol. Ratcliff does a super job of uniting the wealth
of information pertaining to the accomplishments of Warhol, as well as
thoroughly explaining monumental works in the artist’s portfolio. However,
Ratcliff’s text Andy Warhol is deficient, relating to the fact that there is a
lacking of information concerning the artist’s work in the film industry. The
film industry is where Warhol gained his “star” status. This deficiency may
be due to the fact that Andy’s film works were just in the beginning stages at
the time of the texts printing. This is a minor issue considering the enormous
amounts of other information regarding Andy Warhol’s art that is contained in
Ratcliff’s book. Warhol’s work is very unique; Andy broke all the rules and
made new ones as he went along. Warhol is known as the father of Pop art.

Ratcliff captures the essence of Warhol and his paintings, sketches,
photography, and movies. Andy Warhol accomplishes the task of revealing some of
the mystique behind the artist Andy Warhol as well as his work. Andy Warhol by
Carter Ratcliff is a powerful source for anybody interested in the source of
American Pop art.


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