They say you have to be crazy to be a genius. This became clear to me as I researched Andy Warhol’s short but eventful life among mere mortals; I say “mortals” because, if I gathered anything from the years I spent following this artist’s life and works, it is that a mortal Warhol was not. Although he left us on the 22nd of February in 1987, I would argue that a more important date would be August 6, 1928: the day the pioneer was born. As he lives on through the art he created and the people he touched, so too does the American dream that he created. The founding father of Pop Art would be 90 years old today and I have no doubt that, even at this later age, he would still be celebrating American life, the emancipated New York streets and the clandestine beauty of urban culture. Although the limited medical advances only permitted him 58 years of life, his was a front-page death — exactly as he would’ve wanted and I don’t think he would’ve accepted anything less. As for us, we’ve been left with an extensive memory of the man and a number of reproductions so infinite and dizzying that not even death can contain.
I know that this may sound like a cliché, that an amazing life lives on after death; at least, that’s how I feel every time an artist leaves this earth. But I’m not here to talk about other artists, I’m here to talk about Andrew Warhola — the shy soul who hid behind an artist’s ego, the man who never truly revealed his true essence yet whose persona was essential to culture.
I like to think that Warhol was more than the parties he held or attended, more than an idol of debauchery, a master of the underground, an object of persecution. None of that mattered because he lived a free life where nothing really mattered to him, and that was a cost he was willing to pay. Personally, I thank you. I’m certain I’m not the only who has looked for myself (or, at least, what I lack) in a brushstroke or in a tableau, and I’m sure that such praises from mere mortals would please the king. However, Warhol was a true friend to his friends, no matter how hackneyed he seemed and no matter how cowardly a creature they may be. As complicated as he was brave, perhaps what sets the artist apart from us is that he had a courage that none of us have: the courage to live. Only he could look past the criticism and the hardships, and still live a life of ignorant bliss. His lifestyle was enough to make even death laugh, but he knew how to laugh even louder. That being said, a little-known fact is that his daily routine always started with going to mass — so, although he did not need God, he wanted him. Humble by nature and only touched by the wand of cockiness, few people know of the moments when Warhol would interact with the ‘real world’ and contribute to social and poverty aid.
Because of all of this and more, the artist’s memory is still alive in me and I mourn that I could not have met him. Ironically, my life has been very much dependent on the independent life of Warhol: following each of his films, his plays, photographs, his paintings, his hair, nose, his badly operated physique, his companies, shameless personality, his tomato cans, his Marilyns, The Factory, Studio 54 and, above all, to his most used phrase: “Every human being should have the right to 15 minutes of fame.”
Far beyond 15 minutes, fame is what he lived and famous is what he was. He didn’t earn it, he was born with it. When I think of Andy Warhol, I don’t think of a banana peel. I think of the American Dream that he embodied and that he translated so well in his art – the American Dream that starts at nine o’clock receives a resounding success at work and looks forward to a scandalously celebratory evening ahead. He did not leave a beautiful corpse but he lived fast and died young. To be famous is to be Andy Warhol and, for that reason, we will always remain mere mortals.