Andy Warhols Art of Screen Printing
November 25, 2020
When you think of the term “pop art,” what comes to mind?
You’re probably thinking Andy Warhol and his famous works of art such as “32 Canvases of Campbell’s Soup Cans,” and his prints of Marilyn Monroe titled “Marilyn Diptych.”
Warhol was a controversial figure to both artists and to the general public. Amidst cultural expectations and social norms of the 1960s, he was everything the artist was not supposed to be.
Warhol became known for ditching the conventions of traditional art. He eschewed classic techniques and styles for mass production techniques and casual artistry, mistakes and all. His art captivated the imaginations of Americans everywhere–magnifying our conscious and unconscious desires, and mirroring our consumerism and fascination with celebrity culture.
One of the artist’s most intriguing artistic and cultural contributions was his use of screen printing. Largely ignored by serious artists of the time period, screen printing was seen only as a mass production technique before, and even during Andy Warhol’s most influential years. There was no value in the mass production of art. Artists didn’t see their work as commodities.
Andy Warhol changed that perception. In fact, Warhol even argued that there was an art to business itself, and that it was just as beautiful and interesting as any fine art. This mentality helped define his printing philosophy. Soon, Warhol’s mass-produced prints took hold in the zeitgeist, and pop art was born.
Andy Warhol was the son of Slovak immigrants and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a young child, he contracted a nervous system disease that left him bedridden for parts of his childhood. During the resulting down time spent at home, Warhol developed his artistic abilities. He often spent time drawing and listening to the radio.
When Warhol graduated high school, he attended Carnegie Institute of Technology to study commercial art, which likely further contributed to his love of the designs that bombard us in everyday life, refining what would soon become his “pop art” sensibilities.
After college, he worked in advertising and as an illustrator, but slowly made his own personal work into his career in the 50s and 60s. By the time he was in his thirties, he had created some of his most famous works.
Artistically praised as an illustrator for magazines and ads, Andy Warhol began to experiment with his well-respected, distinct sense of artistic styles. His work was already known for its similarities to printmaking, as he would sometimes blot wet ink to create characteristic images for advertisements. Imperfections, smudges, and smears became hallmarks of Warhol’s process and individual style.
This led the artist to screen printing, a technique similar to the work he was already doing in the world of advertising. In an interview with Art News, Warhol once said “The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.” Despite the effort to create a mass produced image devoid of an artist’s touch, Warhol’s technique was so unique at the time, that you’d immediately know if a work was a “Warhol.”
Andy Warhol would typically use photographs to create his prints. The steps in Warhol’s process generally went like this:
- Discover an image that he wanted to use for a print.
- Crop and process the image on a high contrast black and white film to make it print-ready.
- Send the film positive to a printer to be transferred to framed silkscreen that was covered in a light-sensitive emulsion, fixing the image to the screen and creating a “stencil” to push the ink through.
- Trace the image onto the canvas to create a guideline for his work.
- Choose the colors and decide whether or not to paint the canvas within the lines.
- After the paint dries, line up the silkscreen with the guidelines on the canvas and run ink through the screen, creating the classic “pop art” image we all know.
Keeping with the industrial vibe of his work, Andy Warhol created his art in a studio that became known as “The Factory.” While it was actually located in several different buildings over the years, the studio became known for its silver painted, tin foil-covered walls and fractured mirrors, and it housed the equipment Warhol used to create his assembly line screen prints.
Throughout the sixties, The Factory also became known as a hangout for hip, artistic types. Warhol would host parties and collaborate with artists, musicians, and models. The Factory was also a regular hang out spot for 60’s cultural icons, like Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and The Velvet Underground, as well as many other writers and artists.
About the Author