During the 1960s Andy Warhol, an enigmatic, inarticulate figure with silver-sprayed hair and dark glasses, emerged as king of the New York underground and leader of the movement known as Pop Art. His first canvases to achieve wide attention were his silk screens of Campbell's soup cans mechanically reproduced, deliberately banal images that repudiated the free brushwork and individualistic qualities of Abstract Expressionist painting. Warhol challenged conventional notions of artistic creativity and turned over the production of his works to a group of assistants, known as "the factory," who turned out likenesses of soup cans, celebrities, car wrecks, and electric chairs on request. Not exclusively a painter, Warhol also became involved with a rock-and-roll band; with films that depicted violence, perverse sexual activity, and boredom; with a magazine of interviews with celebrities; and with several books of snapshots and tape-recorded interviews. After one of the actresses in his films shot and nearly killed him in 1968an episode that only increased his notorietyWarhol adopted a more genteel persona, changing his attire from black leather jackets to Brooks Brothers blazers. He has continued, however, to produce and sponsor paintings, prints, films, and books under the rubric Andy Warhol Enterprises.
Although he emerged as a public figure only in the 1960s, many of Warhol's viewpoints and attitudes were shaped in the 1940s during his years in Pittsburgh. The son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Warhol, originally named Andrew Warhola, came of age during the period of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II. Warhol's father, who worked in the coal mines of West Virginia, had died in 1942 of poisoning from bad drinking water, and from that time on the family existed near the subsistence level. After school and in his spare time Warhol worked selling vegetables and later as a window display decorator in a department store. Warhol's fascination with glamor in his mature work was thus a response to early experience with poverty and deprivation.
Warhol left high school at sixteen to enter Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), where he majored in pictorial design.