Creative Sketchbook, Module 1, Chapter 2, Extra Activity


Look at the Work of Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

While trying to sort out the blog I found this in drafts, which was never posted while I was doing Module 1, Chapter 2, but it seemed a shame not to include it, especially as I revised my opinion of Warhol somewhat after completing the module. So I’ve added it in now.


One of many Marilyn Monroe portraits produced by Warhol. The first appeared in 1962, just a few months after the movie star’s tragic death.

Say ‘Andy Warhol’, and what comes to mind… Those iconic screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, like photographic negatives, but in bright, bold, contrasting colours… Ditto the Campbell’s soup cans… Then there’s his white, expressionless face, and the silver hair… His studio, ‘The Factory’, filled with unconventional artists, musicians, actors and writers… And, of course, his comment that in the future everyone in the world would be famous for 15 minutes…

Start looking for more, and you’ll find a wealth of detail about the controversial artist, but somehow the man himself remains elusive, hidden behind the make-up, the wig, and the very public persona. He’s as much an illusion as the iconic images he created in his art.  I’m curious to know what drove him. Was he a genuine innovator, pushing the boundaries of art – or was he motivated by the desire for money and fame? And was he celebrating popular culture, celebrity and consumerism – or was he criticising the shallowness of a society obsessed by possessions and social status?


Andy Warhol, by Jack Mitchell.

He rarely made any effort to explain his work. “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.,” he is alleged to have said. (I am still trying to find the reference for this).

In the 1950s, long before he was lauded as a leading exponent of pop art, Warhol was a highly successful commercial artist, and I wonder if it was this that shaped both the way he worked, and his choice of subject – those multiple images of beautiful people and everyday objects  recall the way an advert is used over and over again, as a poster on walls or hoardings, on television and films, and in magazines and newspapers. .But there seems to have been a pivotal moment at the end of the decade when he reinvented himself and his work. Some of his earlier pieces can be seen on the website for the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh ( and I found it hard to reconcile these more delicate pictures, many outlined in ink and coloured with dyes, with what came later.

Warhol Female Costumed Full Fiigure

Andy Warhol, Female Costumed Full Figure,  painted the 1950s – this one reminds me of Grayson Perry, and I love it, because the woman seems so full of the joy of life. (Copyright: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

But the interest in death and disaster is already there, as is the fascination with everyday ephemera, the trash and trivia of American life. And even then he was using photographs as the basis for his paintings. Throughout his career Warhol worked largely from existing images: for example the famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe was from a PR photograph, while dollar signs were from banknotes. I’m sure he would have adored the chance to manipulate images with modern computers and cameras.

I was surprised to see how many artistic techniques he used, but it was the silk screen prints which defined his style, building layer upon layer of startling colours, creating multiple images of those rather flat pictures.


Dollar signs were another of the symbols that Warhol painted over and over again. This one was done in 1981, and shown at the Gagosian Gallery.

Whether you like his work or not (and personally I don’t, although I’m enjoying the Warhol-style activities in Module 1), it does raise questions about the nature of art. He may be popular, but he’s always been controversial, and over the years his methods and subjects have attracted criticism and equal measure.

As far as methods go, artists have always explored new ideas, using the materials available to them – without innovation you’d have stasis. As far as subject is concerned, maybe Warhol just produced pictures of things he liked, or perhaps he saw them as potent symbols of civilisation, or perhaps it was all a joke – after all, he’s the man who said: “Art is what you can get away with.” You could even view the dollar signs and Coke bottles as still lifes for the modern age, like those 17th century Dutch ‘vanitas’ paintings, highlighting the transitory nature of human life, and the meaningless of possessions. And who’s to say that a can of soup is any less artistic, or less meaningful, than a carefully arranged dish of fruit?


Coca Cola bottles, 1962.

Warhol has also been criticised for his commercialism, and for using assistants to help produce his work. I think people see this as somehow devaluing art. But through the ages artists have accepted commissions, and many have had assistants who helped, and also produced their own work ‘in the school of’ the master.

Edited 22.02.16: I’ve never really liked Warhol’s work, but after finding out a little about him, and completing Module 1 (which involved lots of work with colour and simple printing techniques), I’ve developed a sneaking admiration for his work, and the way he uses colour. However, I wouldn’t want one in my house (not that I could afford it anyway!). I’m interested in it as a kind of academic exercise – but  I’m no nearer understanding it, and I can’t say I’d enjoy looking at his pictures for any length of time.

Also, I think my view of Warhol changed after I’d done some research on Matisse (and, somewhat against my will, fallen in love with his cut-outs). I can see similarities between these late Matisse works and Warhol’s pictures, with those flat areas of solid, vibrant colour, and the lack of conventional backgrounds, and the seemingly simple central shapes, and the way colour is used so boldly, and how colours and negative and positive shapes alter the perspective of adjoining spaces and colours.


Warhol’s series of 32 pictures of Campbell’s Soup Cans (one for each variety at the time) was first shown in 1962, and is now in the New York Museum of Modern Art.


I’d love to know if Warhol acknowledged Matisse as an influence – I gather that a friend once asked him what he really wanted out of life, and he replied: “I want to be Matisse.” (From Art in America magazine).

And, of course, there are similarities in the lives of the two artists, because American Warhol and French Matisse both took up art during periods of illness. Each seemed to undergo some kind of epiphany whilst ill, and their experience s determined the course their lives would take.

Information from: and


About chrisharding53

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

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