Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928 and he was a first-generation American as his parents immigrated from Europe before his birth (Rosenblum 205). Warhol’s father died in an accident when he was 13, and childhood illnesses restricted him to bedrest which allowed him to cultivate interests in movie starts and modern culture and these established preferences impacted his later work and artistic expression (Rosenblum 207). Commercial art was his preferred area of study while enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University and after graduating, he moved to New York City and started a career in commercial and advertising art (Rosenblum 207). Warhol was one of the pioneers in the technique of using silk screen printmaking processes as a way to make paintings, and he began exhibiting his depictions of iconic American objects and celebrities (Rosenblum 207).
During the 1960s, he founded his studio which was called “The Factory,” and he became involved with a wide array of writers, artists, and musicians through a number of artistic and cinematic collaborations (Rosenblum 208). A mentally deranged woman attempted to assassinate him, and he was grievously injured from the bullet but survived, and his resurgent success in the 1980s was bolstered by his experimentation with multiple mediums and collaborations with emerging artists (Rosenblum 209). Warhol died at the age of 58 in 1987, and he was renowned as the American pop artist who successfully achieved expansive commerciality with his reproduced works of art and his keen interpretations of pop culture (“Andy Warhol…”). Warhol encouraged viewers of his work to question their understanding of the meaning and significance of cultural icons and images, and he applied a creative use of distortion and repetition to present widely recognized representations of modern culture (“Andy Warhol…”).
Andy Warhol was attempting to convey a message to the American public about its preoccupation with the importance of celebrity icons in this painting. Warhol occupied a unique role in the field of American art, and he lived during a time of expanding consumerism and the growth of modern culture, all of which affected his outlook and choice of techniques (Rosenblum 209). The image of Marilyn Monroe looking out sultrily with a coy smirk on her face is a very distinct visual for observers, and Warhol’s choice of this highly recognizable icon was intended to create an immediate appeal and draw to a passing person. With his selective choice of Marilyn Monroe as the subject of this particular painting, Warhol is making it clear to the public that he is intentionally targeting their views and preconceptions about pop culture and celebrity adoration (Rosenblum 209). This specific decision provides a great deal of insight into the message that he was trying to convey with this work, and his additional utilization of visual elements and design principles will solidify this intent.
The use of the silk screen technique was reminiscent of many of his works, and this particular approach was highly favored by Warhol across his career (Rosenblum 210). Warhol would utilize this method to depict a wide variety of subjects, and this technique helped even casual observers to instantly recognize the work and attribute it to Warhol. Beyond serving as a commercialized tool to facilitate immediate recognition and enhance his reputation, the silk screen process also added a visual element that made the subject seem slightly softer, more approachable and deviate from the perception that it was a realistic portrait. The use of this technique encourages the observer to think differently about the image that is being displayed and to view the highly recognizable pop image in a different light.
By combining the image of an iconic member of American culture with his distinct silk screen method, Warhol uses two elements to draw people in and make them willing to spend time contemplating his work and message. As these two methods are only part of his overall image, there are additional factors which showcase Warhol’s creativity and ability to use elements and principles to convey meaning. An understanding of Warhol’s portfolio and appreciation for an exhibition of his work will demonstrate that core features and messages can be found across a wide variety of mediums that he employed to express himself, and this particular work helps to underscore the essence of his message and outlook as an artist and person (Rosenblum 210). Warhol created works of art that could be mass-produced and consumed on a wide scale by diverse people in the global marketplace, and his desire to have as many people as possible familiar with his work definitely shaped his approach towards using certain visual elements (Rosenblum 210).
Warhol uses vivid shades and selects primary colors for the painting of Marilyn Monroe, and the combination of the red, yellow, and blue leads to a sensation of distinctness and a desire to pay attention to the image. By cultivating color combinations that draw the eye and keep the interest of the viewer, Warhol demonstrates that he is a master of using specific visual elements to revolutionize a mass print of one particular work. There are a number of versions of this particular painting that utilize the combination of certain colors to make each one appear unique, and owners of the paintings feel like they have a work of art that is special but also culturally relevant and recognizable. With an understanding of the American obsession with celebrity icons, Warhol holds up a mirror to society as various individuals pick up his art in a manifestation of modern consumerism and objectification of mass objectification and glorification of celebrity. Andy Warhol is able to deeply assess and accurately interpret the major forces in society and preoccupations in mass culture, and he uses this insight to develop works of art that meet the tastes of the population while also encouraging them to question their deification of celebrities and mass consumption of modern culture (Rosenblum 210).
The specific selected image from Andy Warhol’s extensive portfolio of work was iconic, and it represents the pinnacle of Warhol’s intentional application of principles and careful use of particular visual elements to create meaning. As Marilyn Monroe is one of the most recognizable celebrities of her time and she continues to represent the apex of a time of glamour and appeal in American culture, Warhol demonstrates a clear intent and creative genius with his selection of this particular person for this painting. Warhol is holding a mirror up to the people of the United States to help them recognize their focus on celebrity and commercialization of images for consumption, and the choice to use Marilyn Monroe is the ideal method for achieving this goal. The methodology of using a silk screen printing process that permits mass replication of the image is also important, as Warhol made his art commercial and accessible to the overall public. The recognizability of Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe is this specific image made this painting an instant classic and appealed to a wide audience that supported Warhol’s goals for consumption of his art.
By specifically choosing primary colors and using a vibrant red as the background shade, Warhol made decisions that would allow his art to pop visually and act in a way that similar to the advertisement visuals for mainstream marketing. Warhol chose to use colors that would pop in order to accentuate the hair, eyes, and lips of Marilyn Monroe, and this decision was intelligent because it draws the eye of the observer and makes her the centerpiece. The art could be printed with different colors applied to visually alter the image, and this choice was intentional because it assisted with making the piece a widespread success and appealing to various parties (Rosenblum 210). Since so many of Warhol’s choices and decisions are echoed across his body of work, it is apparent that the chosen visual elements and principles were distinct and were specifically intended to make his work recognizable on a large scale, appeal to a wide range of customers, and fit within the dynamics of American consumerism and pop culture.
“Andy Warhol–From A to B and Back Again.” The Art Institute of Chicago, 2019, https://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/2937/andy-warhol-from-a-to-b-and-back-again.
Rosenblum, Robert. On Modern American Art: Selected Essays. Harry N. Abrams, 1999.