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Warhol MOOC

Week 1
Introduction to Celebrity by Glyn Davis
Video Transcript
Andy Warhol's interest in celebrities started early in life. As a child he
collected signed portraits of Hollywood stars including Mae West and Shirley
Temple in a scrapbook. In the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh, the North
American city where he was born, grew up, studied and is now buried, there is
a room devoted to these pictures.
Warhol first made his name as an artist in the early 1960s producing paintings
of everyday household objects: Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell's Soup cans.
However, he's probably still best known for the paintings that he produced
throughout the 1960s of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Elvis
Presley, and Jackie Kennedy. With all of these paintings, Warhol appropriated
already existing images from newspapers, magazines, or other publicity
materials.
The image of Marilyn Monroe that he used over and over again, for example,
was cropped from a publicity still made for the 1953 film Niagara. This
process of appropriation is one of the main ways in which Warhol is
connected to the movement known as Pop Art. Roy Lichtenstein took images
from comic books and blew them up in scale to become the subject of large
paintings. James Rosenquist would collapse together images of cars,
airplanes, spaghetti, lipstick, all taken from advertising. Unlike the abstract
expressionist movement of the 1950s, associated with painters such as
Jackson Pollock, Pop Art troubled at the distinction between popular culture
and high art, putting familiar objects into gallery spaces. Many works of art by
Pop artists also challenge the idea of the artist as a creative visionary. If the
images that they were appropriating could be found elsewhere in magazines,
in supermarkets and so on, then what exactly were they adding? Are pop
artists really just thieves?
Although some of the canvasses he produced during the 1960s of Monroe,
Presley, Taylor and others featured just one image of the famous person, in
many others the image itself was repeated. Repetition is a key theme for
understanding Warhol's career. In a 1963 interview with Gene Swenson for
Art News he claimed that he wanted to be a machine in fact, that everybody
should be a machine. Throughout his career, he would produce multiple
versions of the same image, each inflected slightly differently through choice
of colour, cropping and framing, and so on. Over numerous canvasses, he
would multiply his chosen appropriated image: a double Elvis, Marilyn 50
times.
With this process, attention is being drawn to the ubiquity of mass mediated
images, the repetitive sameness of consumer culture. Presented with Monroe
50 times over, we stop seeing the celebrity and instead notice the
silkscreening errors, the smears of paint out of alignment, the minor ways in

which the very same image can be inflected as versions.


Warhol was a prolific artist. From 1963 to 1968, during which time he
produced a large number of silk-screened works, he also made hundreds of
movies. This included 472 screen tests, short silent films of people that
passed through the doors of his studio. These films were shot at 24 frames
per second, but were projected at 16 frames per second slowing down their
running time. People that appeared in these portraits included Susan Sontag,
Bob Dylan and Salvador Dali. Taken as a collective whole they serve as a
fascinating portrait of the people that passed through Warhol's orbit.
The screen tests didn't function like Hollywood screen tests: that is, they
weren't auditions for roles in larger movies. However, Warhol did cast in his
screen tests people who also appeared in some of his longer, more narrative
films, individuals such as Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick. In fact, it's
interesting and useful to compare Warhol's filmmaking activities with the
Hollywood studio system, and to recognize that he was attempting to create
his own system of stars and celebrities, by using the same people over and
over again in his films.
By the end of the 1960s, Warhol had become a major celebrity in his own
right. He had fashioned for himself a distinctive visual identity: platinum wig,
sunglasses, and a persona. He was a notoriously difficult interviewee, often
answering questions with uh yes, uh no, and gee, I don't know, what do you
think? He moved from the sub-cultural artistic world he inhabited throughout
the 1960s to socializing with major stars. He was a regular fixture at the
nightclub Studio 54 for instance. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he
produced portraits of many of the celebrities around him. With these images,
however, he worked from photographs that he took, rather than appropriated
pictures. Due to his fame, he now had access to the stars. Warhol had
managed to travel from idolizing film stars as a child, through producing
screenprints of celebrities and stars in the 1960s, to being the artist that
celebrities wanted to be painted by.