When I first saw the works of Andy Warhol i have to admit to being totally non-plussed. It was at a Pop Art exhibition at the Tate Gallery and lined up next to the other people there for me he didn’t stand his ground. I think I was arrogant enough to think I knew what art was and I knew what I liked and compared to Peter Blake and David Hockney this was disappointing.
I think appreciation of Warhol’s aesthetic and of his art as true pieces of art is something I had to grow into in a similar way to the process that people describe going through with growing into Woody Allen films. The key that unlocked Warhol for me though wasn’t any book or any viewing of his work but an album by Lou Reed and John Cale of the Velvet Underground.
I love the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s cover for their first album earned him some cache with me. I bought ‘Songs for Drella’ not knowing that it was about Warhol who they paint as a cross between Dracula and Cinderella. Contained therein were songs about Andy’s ideas behind his work, his work ethic, his attitude to art and some of his personality and personal life laid out as seen through the eyes of two people that knew him quite well (as well as anyone was capable of knowing someone like Warhol.
There are film versions of Andy, there are Andy’s various versions of himself, books galore that discuss him — all this ephemera and apocrypha which directs one back to the lasting legacy of his art. He has one of the most instantly recognisable aesthetics of any artist and his ideas are ripped off and repackaged all the time as if they were something new. No one has really taken on the spirit of Warhol though people like Damien Hirst might be able to lay some claim to that; he was ahead of his time and most people know of him because of his fashionability. He escaped fashion, transcended the moment and became timeless.
I know I am probably not saying anything new, nothing that hasn’t been said a thousand times, but then reproduction of an idea seems somehow fitting in Warhol’s case. Despite all I have read and all I have seen I don’t think I could say what Warhol was except for an artist, except for an ideas man. People seem overly eager to box him, to define him, to paint him into a corner, to portray him in a certain way. Who really knew him? He was a gravitational force with a thousand satellites but who really got close enough to say they knew him? A few maybe, but not many. And there are very few clues in his art — do the concerns of someone tell you who they are? Maybe, in a funhouse mirror kind of way.
What to say? Andy Warhol — check him out and if you dismissed him the first time give him a second try, he is definitely worth it.