© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Marilyn Monroe died in the early hours of August 5, 1962. A few weeks later, Andy Warhol began silkscreening Monroe’s face onto canvases. Using a portrait of the celebrated star taken from a publicity still, Warhol cropped tight around the edges of Monroe’s face and hair with a grease pencil. Warhol had only learned how to silkscreen a few months earlier, but already he was able to achieve his desired effect with the medium. Two Marilyns captures the tragic headline of Monroe’s death as if reporting the news. The silkscreened image deteriorates with each printing, acting as a physical metaphor for the waning of fame and the fading of memory. Warhol’s diptych of Monroe is of an icon losing her essence, becoming distorted by time and saturated retelling. The Two Marilyns that you see in front of you is the twenty-seventh version Warhol completed.
“Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see.” – Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents had immigrated to the United States and settled in an Eastern European enclave in the city. Warhol’s mother was an artist as well, and after he moved to New York in 1949, she would follow him. They lived together until her death.
Throughout the 1950s, Warhol worked as a commercial illustrator. By the early 1960s, he began to develop his iconic Pop style. As a leading figure of Pop art, Warhol brought the imagery and techniques of mass commercialism into the visual arts, moving away from abstract expressionism, the dominant movement that touted universal appeal and a unique brand of American freedom. Warhol’s work showed another side of America. His paintings of Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s soup cans highlighted the wide-spread recognition of these products through slick advertising. Early works were painted by hand, the images often traced from projection in order to appear as if mechanically produced. In 1962 Warhol began to create silkscreen prints, the medium he is best known for.
While the artist’s hand is not visible as brushstrokes in his photo-silkscreened works, Warhol’s choices—of content, cropping, color, and, in some instances, manipulation of the photographic source image—are integral to his process. Through these choices Warhol drew on themes of celebrity, death, disaster, and commodity, often read as metaphor for American culture. In his celebrity portraits and self-portraits, some see religious icons as inspiration; Warhol was Catholic, and he remained religious throughout his life.
Warhol was skillfully ambiguous, and his work is interpreted as both celebratory and critical. From his artwork, ranging from painting and sculpture to film, to his studio (The Factory), which became a flashpoint for 1960s counterculture, to his infamous celebrity persona, Warhol was deeply influential during his lifetime, and his influence on younger generations of artists is difficult to overstate.