The Life, Death, and Works of Andy Warhol, a Contemporary Art Icon

Contemporary art and Andy Warhol are often used in the same sentence. Warhol may be the biggest superstar of the Pop Art movement. His works draw inspiration from and inspire pop culture. But the eccentric Pop Art great also had other curious sources of inspiration, including his strong faith, fascination with iconography, and obsession with mortality and the finality of death. Here’s the story of the enigmatic and controversial Andy Warhol.

andy warhol works

Warhol is strongly linked to the Pop Art movement and the artist may just be its most famous representative. But many of Andy Warhol’s works, especially those of the later period, reveal his interest and focus on iconography and its religious underpinnings as the artist grappled with his realization that death is imminent. 

Warhol was not wrong: apathy breeds a callous culture that can’t be moved by tragic imagery, a notion that rings as accurate now as it did in the ’60s.

Over three decades after his death, these realizations about how Warhol portrayed faith, death, and pain as he grappled with making meaning of the assassination attempt and contemplated his religion and the afterlife are eerily predictive.

Why Was Warhol’s Art So Controversial?


Warhol has, beyond doubt, left an enduring legacy, but what is truly controversial about Andy Warhol’s works is that they remain open to interpretation to this day. People are still raising questions: is his work truly art or merchandise? Was he a genius or a fraud? 

Mortality, religion, and death are some of the primary themes that permeate most artwork created by Warhol. All these themes are present in the Death and Disaster series, Marilyn’s photos and commercials, and culminating in the Last Supper.

Alexander Iolas commissioned Andy Warhol to reimagine Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in 1986. After months of collecting mass-produced Catholic memorabilia copies of the topic, Warhol’s rendition indicates his fascination with materialism, as was his custom. He would not live long enough to see the exhibition.

Warhol’s sexuality has also been the subject of considerable debate, particularly in light of his religious beliefs. Because many of Warhol’s closest friends and sources of inspiration were outwardly homosexual or bisexual, stories abounded regarding his purported virginity, chastity, and voyeurism, which he never confirmed or denied.

How Did Andy Warhol Influence Society?

Andy Warhol influenced society and art by having helped bring to life Pop Art, a whole new genre of contemporary art that emerged in the 1960s. Consumerism and commercialism were already running rampant in America. This led Warhol to rely heavily on advertisements and popular figures in his work.

What Did Andy Warhol Believe?

Warhol was a Roman Catholic, but in terms of his work, he believed that art should not be defined within the narrow confines of a single movement. He wanted art to evoke new emotions every time.

What (Nearly) Killed Andy Warhol?

Warhol came out even before the gay liberation movement, but he was known for his fascination with women. Regardless, he was often accused of sexist behavior. Today, he is seen as an anti-feminist. This could have led to his demise. Warhol was nearly shot by a radical feminist Valerie Solanas in 1968. 

In June of that year, Andy Warhol was shot in his New York City studio, The Factory. This assassination attempt was planned and carried out by Solanas, who was also a star of one of Warhol’s films. Warhol was proclaimed dead at some point during the 5-hour procedure that would save his life.

History remembers Solanas as Warhol’s failed assassin, but she was also a prominent feminist author with an enduring legacy. The incident took place not long after Warhol had turned down Solanas’ manuscript. The undermining act left Solanas to shoot him. She was arrested and spent 3 years in prison. 

But the reason why Andy Warhol died had nothing to do with the shooting. So what Did Andy Warhol die of?

The Death of Andy Warhol: How Did He Die?

After having trouble with his gallbladder for more than 15 years, Warhol checked into New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center on February 20, 1987, for what was intended to be a routine treatment. He had been recovering from surgery for two days when he suddenly passed away from postoperative arrhythmia.

A memorial service was held in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 1, 1987, and about 2,000 people showed up. A number of the most well-known contemporary artists and pop figures were there, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Yoko Ono, Grace Jones, and Liza Minnelli, to name a few.

The procession of mourners ascending the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a beautiful but sad sight, reminiscent of the queue for Studio 54 several years had passed. Andy Warhol is considered the only self-proclaimed Pope of Pop, who is only capable of amassing such a vast following.

The artist’s dedication and faith were the focus of this spring tribute event in the city as intimately tied with Warhol as Pop Art. According to his friends and acquaintances, Warhol was a modest guy who often helped at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In John Richardson’s eulogy, Warhol’s secret Catholic religion and religiosity were revealed for the first time.

This was Andy Warhol’s legacy: not just his role as the generation’s most representative artist but also the spiritual part of his character that he kept concealed from everyone but his closest friends. A spiritual aspect may surprise those who only know him in secular contexts. It did exist, but its significance to the artist’s psyche is tenuous at best.

Andy Warhol: Faith and Sexuality Intertwined

Marilyn Monroe Andy Warhol

Warhol’s increasing obsession with mortality and immersion in the Catholic faith in his latter years is readily seen in his later works. The dark religious symbolism in his previous works was inspired by a playful reinterpretation of Eastern and Western Catholic art historical symbolism and tradition within a Pop culture context.

After moving to New York, Andy and his mother, Julia Warhol, both devout Catholics, continued their weekly Mass attendance. John Richardson also said that Andy continued attending church more often than required. Warhol was a devoted Catholic who encouraged his nephew to pursue priesthood despite his seeming shyness and reserve. 

Although a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper hung in the kitchen, Warhol’s childhood bedroom was otherwise decorated with symbols of saints and angels. It is simple to discern the artistic impact of Warhols Catholicism once you become aware of it. He seems to have drawn evident influence from the Catholic iconostases of his youth, both at home and at the local church, for his works depicting the Pop icons of the day as holy characters.

Warhol’s representations of Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe as modern-day martyrs, victims of celebrity and exploitation in media come at a poignant moment after the killing of John F. Kennedy. These pieces provide a darker interpretation of Warhol’s preoccupation with fame as he considers how the media can transform even the most tragic events into entertainment for the masses. Warhol was always fascinated by the commercialization of tragedy and the absence of privacy, even in death. Images of suffering and death often permeated Warhol’s surroundings and this can be seen in his art.