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When Warhol Nearly Gave Up Painting

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When Warhol Nearly Gave Up Painting

In the early 1960’s Andy Warhol moved from painting to filmmaking. No less radical in this area, he eschewed Hollywood conventions, setting up his own rival East coast studio churning out films in which nothing happened. This kind of art was becoming more prevalent with the likes of Lamont Young and his endless note and John Cage’s musical performances which consisted of silence.

In his one reel three-minute screen tests he proved himself a true documentarian fascinated by the depths of nothingness, that would, years later, be the key ingredient of reality television. Sleep was Andy’s first experimental film shot in the summer of 1963. It featured over five hours of Andy’s boyfriend at the time John Giorno sleeping and nothing else.

He followed up Sleep with Kiss, Eat and BlowJob. His most notorious piece of the time was Empire, which was over eight hours of a single shot of the Empire States Building. Warhol later said that his films were better thought about than actually seen, perhaps to emphasise that they were conceptual works. In 1964, Warhol publicly declared that he was giving up painting for filmmaking. His new portraits were his own version of screen tests, in which almost anyone who came to the Factory were placed in front of the camera for three minutes with no direction. Meanwhile, to fund his experimental agenda Warhol also became a commercial portrait artist, charging wealthy patrons for flattering portraits that, through their sheer number, became another vast work of social documentation.

Warhol further capitalised on this shrewd business approach by taking on the management of seminal rock group The Velvet Underground, and playing host at the Factory to an outrageous coterie of people that his patronage alchemically transformed into superstars – within the small world of the Factory and the artscene of Manhattan. The initial success of Andy’s foray into the music world was followed by his first real movie success. Chelsea Girls was the first avant-garde movie to reach the Variety charts, grossing over $150 000 at various cinemas in New York at the end of 1966.

The filmmaking success of the Factory attracted all manner of lost doomed souls and would-be acting talent. This culminated in an assassination attempt by one of his spurned actresses that almost killed him. It has become a matter of debate whether after the shooting Warhol was ever the same artist.

Andy always sought recognition from Hollywood for his films and with pictures like Hopper’s Easy Rider, it seemed like Tinseltown in the late 60s was opening itself to more experimentation. It was a false dawn and Warhol relinquished filmmaking altogether and withdrew his early works from circulation in the early 1970s.

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