Today is the birthday (1928) of Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola US artist, director and producer who was a leading figure in pop art in the 1960s. Today is also the feast of the Transfiguration in certain Christian sects (not all, although it is a universal feast). Few people realize that Warhol was a devout Ruthenian Catholic, so pairing the two celebrations is appropriate.
Warhol was born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth child of Ondrej Warhola (Anglicized as Andrew Warhola, Sr., 1889–1942) and Julia (née Zavacká, 1892–1972), whose first child was born in their homeland, now Slovakia, and died before their move to the U.S. His parents were Lemko (eastern Slav) emigrants from Mikó (now called Miková) in the Carpathian mountains, part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Warhol’s father emigrated to the United States in 1914, and his mother joined him in 1921. The family was Ruthenian Catholic (aka Byzantine Catholic) and attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. Andy Warhol had two older brothers—Pavol (Paul), the oldest, was born before the family emigrated and Ján was born in Pittsburgh.
In third grade, Warhol developed Sydenham’s chorea (also known as St. Vitus’ Dance), a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities, which is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever. He became a hypochondriac, and developed a fear of hospitals and doctors. Warhol was often bedridden as a child, and spent much of the time drawing, listening to the radio, and collecting pictures of movie stars, which he later described as very important in the development of his personality, skill-set and preferences. When Warhol was 13, his father died in an accident.
Warhol graduated from Schenley High School in 1945. After graduating from high school, his intentions were to study art education at the University of Pittsburgh in the hope of becoming an art teacher, but his plans changed and he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied commercial art. During his time there, Warhol joined the campus Modern Dance Club and Beaux Arts Society. He also served as art director of the student art magazine, Cano, illustrating a cover in 1948 and a full-page interior illustration in 1949. These are believed to be his first two published artworks. Warhol earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design in 1949. Later that year, he moved to New York City and began a career in magazine illustration and advertising.
Warhol’s early career was dedicated to commercial and advertising art, where his first commission had been to draw shoes for Glamour magazine in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, Warhol worked as a designer for shoe manufacturer Israel Miller. Photographer John Coplans recalled that,
. . . nobody drew shoes the way Andy did. He somehow gave each shoe a temperament of its own, a sort of sly, Toulouse-Lautrec kind of sophistication, but the shape and the style came through accurately and the buckle was always in the right place. The kids in the apartment [which Andy shared in New York – note by Coplans] noticed that the vamps on Andy’s shoe drawings kept getting longer and longer but [Israel] Miller didn’t mind. Miller loved them.
Warhol’s “whimsical” ink drawings of shoe advertisements figured in some of his earliest showings at the Bodley Gallery in New York.
Warhol was an early adopter of the silk screen printmaking process as a technique for making art. He was taught silk screen printmaking techniques by Max Arthur Cohn at his graphic arts business in Manhattan. While working in the shoe industry, Warhol developed his “blotted line” technique, applying ink to paper and then blotting the ink while still wet, which was akin to a printmaking process on the most rudimentary scale. His use of tracing paper and ink allowed him to repeat the basic image and also to create endless variations on the theme, a method that prefigures his 1960s silk-screen canvas. In his book Popism: The Warhol Sixties, Warhol writes: “When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”
Warhol began exhibiting his work during the 1950s. He held exhibitions at the Hugo Gallery and the Bodley Gallery in New York City; in California, his first West Coast gallery exhibition was on July 9, 1962, in the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles. The exhibition marked his West Coast debut of pop art. his first New York solo pop art exhibition was hosted at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery November 6–24, 1962. The exhibit included the works Marilyn Diptych, 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles, and 100 Dollar Bills.
It was during the 1960s that Warhol began to make paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom clouds, electric chairs, Campbell’s Soup Cans, Coca-Cola bottles, celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Troy Donahue, Muhammad Ali, and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as newspaper headlines or photographs of police dogs attacking African-American protesters during the Birmingham campaign in the civil rights movement. During these years, he founded his studio, “The Factory” and gathered about him a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities. Warhol said of Coca-Cola:
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
New York City’s Museum of Modern Art hosted a Symposium on pop art in December 1962 during which artists such as Warhol were attacked for “capitulating” to consumerism. Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture. During the 1960s, Warhol also groomed a retinue of bohemian and counterculture eccentrics upon whom he bestowed the designation “Superstars”, including Nico, Joe Dallesandro, Edie Sedgwick, Viva, Ultra Violet, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and Candy Darling. These people all participated in the Factory films, and some—like Berlin—remained friends with Warhol until his death. Important figures in the New York underground art/cinema world, such as writer John Giorno and film-maker Jack Smith, also appear in Warhol films (many premiering at the New Andy Warhol Garrick Theatre and 55th Street Playhouse) of the 1960s, revealing Warhol’s connections to a diverse range of artistic scenes during this time. Less well known was his support and collaboration with several teenagers during this era, who achieved prominence later in life including writer David Dalton, photographer Stephen Shore and artist Bibbe Hansen (mother of pop musician Beck).
On June 3rd, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and Mario Amaya, art critic and curator, at Warhol’s studio. Before the shooting, Solanas had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. She wrote the S.C.U.M. Manifesto in 1967, a separatist feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men; and appeared in the 1968 Warhol film I, a Man. Earlier on the day of the attack, Solanas had been turned away from the Factory after asking for the return of a script she had given to Warhol. The script had apparently been misplaced. Amaya received only minor injuries and was released from the hospital later the same day. Warhol was seriously wounded by the attack and barely survived: surgeons opened his chest and massaged his heart to help stimulate its movement again. He suffered physical effects for the rest of his life, including being required to wear a surgical corset. The shooting had a profound effect on Warhol’s subsequent life and art.
Solanas was arrested the day after the assault, after turning herself in to police. By way of explanation, she said that Warhol “had too much control over my life.” She was subsequently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and eventually sentenced to three years under the control of the Department of Corrections. After the shooting, the Factory scene heavily increased security, and for many the “Factory 60s” ended. Warhol wrote:
Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there—I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television—you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.
Warhol was a practicing Ruthenian Catholic all of his life. He regularly volunteered at homeless shelters in New York City, particularly during the busier times of the year, and described himself as a religious person. Many of Warhol’s later works depicted religious subjects, including two series, Details of Renaissance Paintings (1984) and The Last Supper (1986). In addition, a body of religious-themed works was found posthumously in his estate. During his life, Warhol regularly attended Mass, and the priest at Warhol’s church, Saint Vincent Ferrer, said that he went there almost daily, although he was not observed taking Communion or going to Confession and sat or knelt in the pews at the back. The priest thought he was afraid of being recognized. Warhol said he was self-conscious about being seen in a Roman Rite church crossing himself “in the Orthodox way” (right to left instead of the reverse). Warhol’s brother has described him as “really religious, but he didn’t want people to know about that because it was private”. Despite the private nature of his faith, in Warhol’s eulogy John Richardson depicted it as devout: “To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood”
This brings us to the Transfiguration. The feast comes from the account in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). Here is Mark 9:2-4:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
The feast of the Transfiguration was known in various forms by the 9th century, and in the Western Church was made a universal feast on 6th August by Pope Callixtus III. Many denominations celebrate the Transfiguration, including quite a number of Protestants, but the dates vary. Presbyterians (as well as Methodists and Lutherans) celebrate it on the Sunday immediately preceding Lent. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox churches that follow the Gregorian calendar continue to use August 6th.
Christian theology assigns a great deal of significance to the Transfiguration, based on multiple elements of the narrative. The Transfiguration is a pivotal moment because it unequivocally identifies Jesus as more than human, and takes place on a mountain, a setting in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles where specially chosen people meet God. Mountains act as a bridge between heaven and earth.
As a committed Ruthenian Catholic, Andy Warhol would have celebrated the Transfiguration annually, but I am not going to speculate on what he ate on that day. He did not simply champion fast food and commercial products in his art, he was a regular consumer of them as well. He wrote:
My favorite restaurant atmosphere has always been the atmosphere of the good, plain American lunchroom or even the good, plain American lunch counter. The old-style Schrafft’s and the old-style Chock Full o’Nuts are absolutely the only things in the world that I’m truly nostalgic for. The days were carefree in the 1940s and 1950s when I could go into a Chocks for my cream cheese sandwich with nuts on date-nut bread and not worry about a thing. No matter what changes or how fast, the one thing we always need is real good food so we can know what the changes are and how fast they’re coming. Progress is very important and exciting in everything but food. When you say you want an orange, you don’t want someone asking you, “An orange what?”
There’s a start for you, cream cheese with nuts on date-nut bread. He is a known to have liked chocolate in a sandwich (which I do too, as it happens, courtesy of a stay in France as a teen), and, in general, his tastes were quite ordinary and plain. He also wrote this:
When I order in a restaurant, I order everything that I don’t want, so I have a lot to play around with while everyone else eats. Then, no matter how chic the restaurant is, I insist that the waiter wrap the entire plate up like a to-go order, and after we leave the restaurant I find a little corner outside in the street to leave the plate in, because there are so many people in New York who live in the streets, with everything they own in shopping bags.
In other words, today is not a day for extravagance, but for simple, good food. The choice is yours. I’m not so sure about a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, although I used to be a big fan of their pepper pot. A ballpark hotdog will work:
When Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog.