Appreciating Legacy Artists: Andy Warhol
“He was a slight man who wore a white wig.”
The Times, Obituary, February 1987
The name Andy Warhol probably doesn’t have to be explained. He’s a figure so iconic in the art world that simply showing a color palette of one of his works will remind you of who’s talking about. Being a leading figure of the 1960s pop art movement, no artform was left untouched by him. He dabbled in painting, photography, sketches, film, etc. He was a trailblazer in pop style and has left a definitive mark on the nature of aesthetics. Furthermore, he was well known — notorious even — for his personality and the entourage it accumulated. What this article hopes to examine is the childhood of somebody so iconic, and what specific moments created this type of person.
On August 6, 1298, Andrew Warhola was born to Julia and Ondrej Warhola. Though he was delivered in the neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his parents had journeyed in the 1920’s to America all the way from eastern Slovakia. His father was a construction worker and his mother was an embroiderer who had dabbled in artistry throughout her life. Both of them were devout Byzantine Catholics that carried much of their Slovakian culture into the household, all while living in “Pittsburgh’s Eastern European ethnic enclaves”. Andrew was known as “Andy” as a child, having two older brothers named John and Paul. He was described as smart, creative, and talented at drawing.
Andy’s childhood was deeply affected by the Great Depression, shaping what activities he could and could not do. Growing up in such a smoky industrial city also impacted his perception of the world around him and what kind of visuals he was drawn to. An event that truly influenced him occurred at either age 6 or 8 (sources vary). At one of those ages, he contracted Chorea (also known as St. Vitus’s Dance). This is a rare and sometimes even fatal illness of the nervous system which entails involuntary muscle spasms. The sickness left him bedridden for months, during which time his mother — in an effort to keep him entertained — taught him how to draw. He quickly became obsessed with the skill and would practice it constantly. Other sources for entertainment came from the radio and movies, both of these things propelling Andy’s deep love for pop culture and wanting to keep up with celebrities. This interest in film resulted in his mother buying him a camera when he was 9, and he used it frequently — even creating a makeshift darkroom in his basement.
He attended Holmes Elementary School and moved on to Schenley High School. In his freshman year, another major tragedy would befall him — the death of his father. Ondrej Warhol had succumbed to a jaundiced liver, devastating his son — who was so bereft that he couldn’t even attend the funeral. Andy even hid under his bed all throughout the wake. However, his father had recognized his son’s artistic talents, declaring in his will that all his money would go towards Andy’s artistic education. With that set up for him, Andy ended up graduating from Schenley at just 16 and going on to attend Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to study pictorial design. He would be the first of his family to ever go beyond high school.
The rest of Andy’s journey was a long, turbulent, and often fun one filled with beautiful, stunning art. Not only did he change the art world through his creations, but he also did so by giving the attention and spotlight to fellow “nobodies” whom people would’ve never noticed had it not been for Andy.