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Timeless Andy Warhol Portraits

By Jessica Corbett Published 03/14/2007 | Arts and Culture

Even from his early days in Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol demonstrated unique artistic talent. He began his successful career in magazine illustration and advertising, but became better known for his portraits. Andy Warhol portraits were, and continue to be, in a category of their own. They are more than mere pictures; they tell a fascinating tale of his personal and artistic circle, as well as a chronicle of many of the most talented, best-known and wealthiest public figures of the period. Warhol's celebrated subjects included tycoons, entertainers, fashion designers and drag queens. His most famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Liza Minnelli are recognized all over the world.

Unlike traditional portraiture, Warhol relied exclusively on photographs to capture the image of his subjects. He often made use of photos from magazines and newspapers and, by employing photomechanical reproduction techniques, he was able to enlarge and transfer the image onto a canvas. He then painted patches of color to enliven the flat surface and to personalize the painting; thus, Andy Warhol portraits came to life.

There was often a personal connection between Warhol and his subjects. For example, his Campbell's Soup Cans paintings stem from a childhood memory, a time when his mother often fed him Campbell's Soup. Other works functioned as a personal statement about art. Warhol painted dollar signs and dollar bills as a symbolic representation of the relationship between art and money. For Warhol, the "secret" of art was based on its undeniable connection to money. These unique pieces redefined the notion of art as a means of expression to art as a means of survival.

The 1960s
After his travels around the world, Warhol began to devote more energy to painting. He created his Coca-Cola paintings in 1961, and followed with a series of Campbell's Soup Cans in 1962. The soup cans caused a sensation in the art world and proclaimed Warhol a celebrity. That same year, he began a long series of celebrity portraits, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor. After announcing his retirement from painting in 1965 in order to pursue a career in filmmaking, Warhol took up painting again in 1966, and decided to expand his activities to include performance art in a traveling multimedia show.

The 1970s
Although Warhol was both successful and scandalous in the 1960s, he became somewhat of an entrepreneur in the 1970s as he devoted much of his time to portraying rich patrons for commissions. His clients included Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, Diana Ross, Brigitte Bardot, and Michael Jackson. In 1971, Warhol co-designed the Grammy-winning cover for The Rolling Stones' album Sticky Fingers, featuring a close-up photo of the torso of a man wearing blue jeans with a real working zipper. Subsequently, he received many more commissions to design music LP covers.

The 1980s
Warhol re-emerged as a critical and financial success in the 1980s, partially due to his affiliation and friendships with a number of prolific younger artists. In 1985, he was selected as one of the Absolut Vodka artists. Several of his paintings were used in advertisements, bringing his art to a much broader audience. During this period, all of his works were created with the help of paid assistants, managers, and friends.

Andy Warhol Portraits
After his tragic death in 1987, Warhol's estate was auctioned over a period of ten days to raise money for his visual arts foundation. Andy Warhol portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O. and, of course, Campbell's Soup Cans, brought portraiture back into mainstream culture as an important art form.