Last winter, I featured an outfit that reminded me very much of one of my favourite pop artists, Roy Lichtenstein. In that entry, I hinted that wouldn’t be the last time I pay homage to an artist in dress. Today is the fulfillment of that promise. Although, I didn’t stray too far in my point of reference – I just moved from one pop artist to another. This shirt came home from the thrift store because it reminded me of the oft-imitated Andy Warhol. In particular, it brought to mind his Flowers series – especially the 1964 original:
My university art prof wouldn’t be surprised to see Andy make an appearance on the blog, my relationship with Andy is a long one. I somehow managed to write (or paint) him into nearly every major modern art project I’ve done over the past decade. It started with a grade 10 painting of a repeated shrieking baby in garish greens. It ended with a tragic tribute to a bald Britney Spears in the midst of her 2008 breakdown for my senior Modern Art final:
I’m honest enough with myself to realize that an obsession with Andy Warhol is an art student cliche these days. Now more than ever, edgy millennials pin, share, post and hang Warhol without a second thought. He’s become dangerously familiar. His work has ascended to the same level of pop-cultural awareness as, say, a Campbell’s soup can in the 60s (that just got really meta…). However, that doesn’t take away the potency of his legacy, nor does it diminish the genuine influence he’s had on my own aesthetic and worldview. In many ways, it just affirms he was a prophet as much as an artist.
So what is it about Andy’s work that will forever continue to hold sway over arty college students? My own experience with primary art education will likely ring true for many for you, and maybe shed some light on the Warhol phenomena. It went a little like this: You meet the Mona Lisa in grade 3, Michelangelo in grade 5, and if you’re lucky, Monet in Grade 6. Then you repeat that for a few more years. Don’t get me wrong – there is much to be gained from the pages of art history, but after years of art education that seemed to begin and end with the Renaissance, the discovery of Warhol was a welcomed shock to my apathetic teenaged brain. Instead of frescoes, oils, and chiaroscuro, Andy gives us silk-screened canvases set ablaze with hot pinks, neon yellows, and primary reds. Rather than Venus and St. Paul, he gives us Elvis and Marilyn. The day I encountered Andy, I found myself staring down a host of new possibilities, because he made me realize that art is anything.
As someone who still watches too much TV and may indulge in a celebrity blog now and again, Warhol gave me validation that pop culture is worth exploring – it’s a subject every bit as valid for artistic exploration as a landscape or still life. There is so much to be learned from it.
I think, too, part of Warhol’s draw is his deceptive simplicity: deceptive in that he didn’t set out to create art for trendy 20-somethings. He set out creating dark and murky mirrors for an overly-consumerized society. College kids might share a Warhol quote because it says something snappy and it’s set in Helvetica, but Andy’s always been toying will all of us: There is so much more behind the canvas. Take the Flowers my shirt is referencing:
“What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol’s art–the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer’s gaze. The garish and brilliantly colored flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end up in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one’s gaze, as if haunted by death.” (J. Coplans, “Andy Warhol: The Art”, Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1970, p.52).
Whoa. That got a little heavy, didn’t it? But that right there sums up my attraction to Warhol’s work – it subverts the superficial with, well, the superficial. We could all spend a lifetime striving to do something as poignant, and never quite get there.
You’re not going to find any attempts at poignancy here today – just a funky t-shirt and a few words on a artist I love. I’m thankful for Andy Warhol. I’m thankful for his Flowers. I’m thankful for this thrifted shirt that prompted one more Warholian reflection. And, finally, I’m thankful for these stretchy gray pants that mark the official end to my dry spell in thrifting pants. OK, that’s not entirely related, but it needed to be said. Poignancy aside, I know Andy would appreciate a good pair of trousers.