Andy Warhol, the son of Polish immigrants, left his hometown of Pittsburgh and arrived in New York City by train in June 1949 with $200 dollars in his pocket. He had just graduated from the art program at Carnegie Mellon and wanted to work as a commercial illustrator for a magazine publisher. But he was also obsessed with becoming famous. He really wanted to be a fine artist but wasn’t sure how to make a living at it. In fact, he was unsure whether that was even was possible.
Warhol’s first job was working for Glamour Magazine, which was one of the Conde Nast publications. He was hired by the art director there, Tina Fredericks, to do illustrations for a story called, “Success is a Job in New York.” Fredericks wrote of her first meeting with this curious-looking person in tortoiseshell glasses,
“I greeted a boy with a big beige blotch on his cheek, possibly going all the way up to his forehead. He was all one color. Weird. There seemed to be something other earthly or offbeat, different, for sure. Elfish. From another world. He had a breathy way of talking. His voice was slight, unemphatic, whispery, covered over with a smile.”
As a child, Warhol had suffered St. Vitus Dance, a neurological disorder that left his skin permanently discolored. He would remain highly self-conscious his entire life about his physical appearance, famously choosing to wear an outlandish gray wig when confronted with thinning hair.
During the 1950s, Warhol became one of the most sought-after and well-paid illustrators in Manhattan. His increasing income allowed him to move into his own townhouse. He began to shop for his clothes at Brooks Brothers. For the remainder of his career could be seen, even during the psychedelic days of The Factory in the 60s, wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and button-down – sometimes with a repp tie. He apparently ceased wearing bow ties after the 50s.
Unsatisfied with his commercial success, Warhol longed for something more. He wanted to get exhibitions in important galleries. Presenting his portfolio of drawings, he was rejected time after time – partly because his work was representational in an art world dominated by abstraction, and partly because of his homoerotic themes, which were taboo back then.
By 1956, the only venues willing to show Warhol’s work were Serendipity, a popular ice cream parlor on the Upper East Side that was also a meeting place for gay men, and the Bodley Gallery next-door. He did not sell a single drawing. Two years later, artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, breaking with the dominant mode of Abstract Expressionism, laid the foundation for Pop Art with their sensational one-man shows at Leo Castelli Gallery.
Warhol’s work was maturing, moving toward a critique of consumer culture and mass production (best represented by his Campbell’s Soup series) in which all traces of the artist’s hand – brush work, dripped paint or process – were eliminated. In November 1962, his one-man show at Stable Gallery in New York City took the artworld by storm and established him as the leading figure of contemporary art. It was instant celebrity. Warhol was on the way to becoming a superstar, one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.