Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 6, 1928 from two Slovak immigrants. Warhol immediately showed his artistic talent, and studied advertising art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the current Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After graduating, obtained in 1949, he moved to New York. The "big apple" immediately offered him multiple opportunities to establish himself in the advertising world, working for magazines like Vogue and Glamor.
By the beginning of the 1960s, pop art was an experimental form that several artists were independently adopting; some of these pioneers, such as Roy Lichtenstein, would later become synonymous with the movement. Warhol, who would become famous as the "Pope of Pop", turned to this new style, where popular subjects could be part of the artist's palette. His early paintings show images taken from cartoons and advertisements, hand-painted with paint drips. Marilyn Monroe was a pop art painting that Warhol had done and it was very popular. Those drips emulated the style of successful abstract expressionists (such as Willem de Kooning). Warhol's first pop art paintings were displayed in April 1961, serving as the backdrop for New York Department Store Bronwit Teller's window display. This was the same stage his Pop Art contemporaries Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg had also once graced.
It was the gallerist Muriel Latow who came up with the ideas for both the soup cans and Warhol's dollar paintings. On November 23, 1961, Warhol wrote Latow a check for $50 which, according to the 2009 Warhol biography, Pop, The Genius of Warhol, was payment for coming up with the idea of the soup cans as subject matter. For his first major exhibition, Warhol painted his famous cans of Campbell's soup, which he claimed to have had for lunch for most of his life. A 1964 Large Campbell’s Soup Can was sold in a 2007 Sotheby's auction to a South American collector for £5.1 million ($7.4 million).
He loved celebrities, so he painted them as well. From these beginnings he developed his later style and subjects. Instead of working on a signature subject matter, as he started out to do, he worked more and more on a signature style, slowly eliminating the handmade from the artistic process. Warhol frequently used silk-screening; his later drawings were traced from slide projections. At the height of his fame as a painter, Warhol had several assistants who produced his silk-screen multiples, following his directions to make different versions and variations.
In 1979, Warhol was commissioned by BMW to paint a Group-4 race version of the then "elite supercar" BMW M1 for the fourth installment in the BMW Art Car Project. It was reported at the time that, unlike the three artists before him, Warhol opted to paint directly onto the automobile himself instead of letting technicians transfer his scale-model design to the car. It was indicated that Warhol spent only a total of 23 minutes to paint the entire car.
Warhol produced both comic and serious works; his subject could be a soup can or an electric chair. Warhol used the same techniques—silkscreens, reproduced serially, and often painted with bright colors—whether he painted celebrities, everyday objects, or images of suicide, car crashes, and disasters, as in the 1962–63 Death and Disaster series. The Death and Disaster paintings included Red Car Crash, Purple Jumping Man, and Orange Disaster. One of these paintings, the diptych Silver Car Crash, became the highest priced work of his when it sold at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Auction on Wednesday, November 13, 2013, for $105.4 million.
Some of Warhol's work, as well as his own personality, has been described as being Keatonesque. Warhol has been described as playing dumb to the media. He sometimes refused to explain his work. He has suggested that all one needs to know about his work is "already there 'on the surface'.
His Rorschach inkblots are intended as pop comments on art and what art could be. His cow wallpaper (literally, wallpaper with a cow motif) and his oxidation paintings (canvases prepared with copper paint that was then oxidized with urine) are also noteworthy in this context. Equally noteworthy is the way these works—and their means of production—mirrored the atmosphere at Andy's New York "Factory". Biographer Bob Colacello provides some details on Andy's "piss paintings":
He died fifty-eight in New York in 1987, following a gall bladder surgery, after having made Last Supper, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The funeral took place in Pittsburgh, his hometown, and a memorial mass was celebrated in New York. In the spring of 1988, 10,000 objects of his property were auctioned by Sotheby's to finance the "Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts". In 1989 the Museum of Modern Art in New York dedicated a major retrospective to him.