Historical Figures: Andy Warhol

Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928. He established himself as an accomplished commercial artist in New York during the 1950s. But he achieved real fame during the 1960s as an artist, filmmaker and art world Svengali.

Andy Warhol

Famous for 15 minutes

In 1962, he exhibited a collection of apparently banal paintings of everyday consumer items, such as Campbell's soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. The show placed Warhol at the forefront of the Pop Art movement, which sought to democratise art in the wake of the highly academic, highly personal Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s. He developed this theme further with stylised portraits of American icons, including a stunning series of brightly coloured silk-screen prints of Marilyn Monroe.

Later in the sixties, Warhol turned to filmmaking. He gathered an eclectic mix of artists, musicians, models and actors at his New York studio, The Factory. The brightest and most beautiful became Warhol's "superstars". He used them to generate publicity for films and artistic projects. They included the model and singer Nico, model and actress Edie Sedgwick and the nucleus of what would become The Velvet Underground. Warhol was fascinated by celebrity and famously declared "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Dark side

But there was a darker side to The Factory. Drug abuse was commonplace and some of the people attracted to Warhol were unstable. In 1968, he was shot in the chest by Valerie Solanas, a self-styled feminist and Factory hanger-on. Warhol was badly injured and almost died. He was obliged to wear a corset for the rest of his life.

Later in his career, Warhol returned to portraiture, telling the BBC in 1981 that he would take at least 200 Polaroid photographs of a subject before choosing the best snap from which to produce a series of 40-inch by 40-inch silk-screen portraits. He seldom used realistic colours, although he did experiment with different flesh tones. "Maybe one day I'll get the right flesh colour," he mused.

Warhol died in 1987, following a gallbladder operation.