Home Magazine Andy Warhol and his underground cinema

Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, James Dean, Elvis Presley. These are few of the demigods that owe a lot to Andy Warhol. When Warhol started to depict these actress and actors in his works of art made by the silkscreen medium, they were already famous, they were already heroes but, to be part of his art selection and his world added, in fact, an additional value to their characters. 

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Warhol (1930-1987) was a revolutionary towards any fields he was approaching from the 60s to the 80s: from illustration – Andy started his creative career as a fashion illustrator, building up amazing shop windows – to painting, sculpture, design, advertising, music, photography, cinema, journalism… 

Andy Warhol’s Factory – his studio – became a fundamental creative incubator based in New York where several kinds of artists, characters and people hung around. In 1962, American Pop Art came out from this vivid and powerful crazy panorama where everything was based on experimentation and new ideas. Together with Warhol, other predominant names were the ones of Richard Hamilton in Great Britain, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Claes Oldenburg, George Segal and James Rosenquist. 

In that year, Warhol shows for the first time his body of work dedicated to famous brands: Coca Cola bottles and Campbell Soup, both in sculpture and in paintings. In the meantime, he also started the reproduction of big portraits printed on paintings: Marilyn and Elvis were among the first subjects chosen among the Hollywoodian stars. Their huge faces realized with the silk screen technique became very popular and underlined a clear critique message of those times, where superficiality of things was considered as more important than contents.


Elizabeth Taylor portrait by Andy Warhol, courtesy the Andy Warhol Foundation.jpg


His first solo show took place in Los Angeles. The obvious choice would have been New York, the city where Warhol was living and working in. But LA has a more Pop character according to the artist, away from that sophisticated new Yorker system. So, he opened his first exhibition at the Eleonor Ward Gallery in 33 East 74thStreet.

LA was the city of cinema rather than of visual art. In this way Warhol creates a synergic exchange from the East coast to the West coast, where all the Studios were, through a new vision based on underground films. In that time Jonas Mekas, movie director and writer who belonged to a certain underground culture, founded the New American Cinema Group with other independent cinema makers. Warhol was among them. He started shooting films in 1963, after the beginning of his friendship with Mekas. 


Andy Warhol The nude restaurant, courtesy the Andy Warhol Foundation.


The artist bought a 16mm Bolex camera and started to shoot everything that was caught his attention, with an obsessive attentiveness towards details and people that were attending the Factory. His style was very experimental: fixed camera with no focus, with a very natural approach. Reality was his main interest. Topics were minimal, most of the time very banal, and shooting timing were extremely long. From 1963 and 1964 Andy Warhol created his most known films such as Sleep, Kiss, Eat, Empire, that respectively deal with a man who is sleeping, various couples kissing each other, a woman eating and hours and hours of one ongoing shot of the Empire State Building. “Experimental” is euphemistic: these movies were brave and free. Warhol wanted to capture real things and to keep a visual diary. In 1965 he shot the historical Vinyl (70 minutes long), randomly based on the Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, before Kubrick movie. Among his favorite performers were Edie Sedwick and Gerard Malanga. Then, in 1966, Chelsea Girls together with Paul Morissey. The screen is divided in two, as the storytelling. Another “cult” into Warhol filmography is The nude restaurantin 1967. For sure Warhol left traces also in this field, and his dedication to the movie world is tangible also into his paintings. 


Andy Warhol, Sleep, 1963, courtesy the MoMA.


Andy Warhol Kiss, 1963, courtesy the MoMA.


Andy Warhol, Empire, 1964, courtesy the MoMA.


Andy Warhol, Gerard Maranga and Edie Sedwick, courtesy courtesy the Andy Warhol Foundation.


Cover image: Andy Warhol and his camera, courtesy the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Written by Rossella Farinotti

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