Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal ArtsNomina
7 minutes for reading

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Share material

Andy Warhol (1928–1987) was an American artist of Ukrainian origin, one of the founders of pop art and a cult figure in the history of modern art in general. As an artist, illustrator, designer, sculptor, writer, producer, film director, publisher and collector, he has left a huge artistic legacy.




Any ethnos contains quite a lot of sub-ethnoi – groups that understand each other’s language without much difficulty, but in a quite noticeable way speak in somewhat different ways, build a phrase, express thoughts. They are not radically different, but a little different from their neighbors.

This is typical not only for the population of countries, but even for residents of cities. Do you remember Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw? Professor Higgins heard just a couple of Colonel Pickering’s remarks and immediately determined, “Cheltenham, Harrow, Cambridge and subsequently India.” And he was right!

Ukraine is clearly no less than London, and among Ukrainians there are also different ethnic groups, sometimes rather big ones. Have you heard of Lemkos? This is a fairly large ethnic group, named because of the habit of often using the word “lem” in conversation, roughly translated as “only”. Most of the Lemkos live in Ukraine, they are also in Poland and Slovakia.

The Lemkos gave the world a number of celebrities – for example, the remarkable composer, the founder of the genre of Russian sacred music, Dmitry Bortniansky. There were Lemkos who became famous across the ocean, and at least one of them became known to the whole world.




At birth, his name was Andrej Varhola. His parents emigrated from the Lemko village of Mikov in Transcarpathia (having been part of different countries, it is now in Slovakia). Andrej was their last, youngest child, and was born already in Pittsburgh.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Andy Warhol as a child

His father was a strong man, worked hard, found a decent paying job in a construction company and when his youngest son was 6 years old, was able to buy a house in a good area, next to a decent school and a Greek Catholic church, which was convenient for his family, extremely religious – by the way, Andrej attended church several times a week all his life.

A huge role in his upbringing was played by his mother, who loved her late child very much (when he was born, she was 36 years old). In addition to house holding, she was engaged in the sale of artificial flowers, which she herself made from cans and corrugated paper, embroidered pictures, and also painted Easter eggs for Easter. Of course, she also encouraged her son to draw.

The child grew difficult, constantly ill, and with rather unpleasant things – right up to the “St. Vitus dance”, a rare and terrible sore, which, according to his later recollections, began on the first day of summer holidays, forcing him to spend them in bed drawing.

During his illness, he had little entertainment: a radio, dolls cut out of paper and drawings of his mother, who, in order to somehow entertain him, drew cats and other animals for him. Another theme for their work was portraits of each other. So he learned to draw.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Mother portrait




It is clear that neither his school nor he was particularly pleased with the school. When his illness worsened, he could not even write his name or tie the laces on his own shoes – peers usually ridicule such children. In addition, he also had difficulties with his appearance: his skin became pale, but covered with red spots, and at school the boy was teased as “red-nosed”.

Even in his early youth, he suffered another misfortune – his father fell ill with tuberculosis and soon after the boy graduating from elementary school his dad left this world. Before his death, his father bequeathed to give him a higher education – the money accumulated for this was enough for only one child.

He began his studies not without problems – a strong accent interfered. His mother never learned English and spoke to him at home in the Lemko dialect – it is completely understandable to Ukrainians, but Americans have difficulties with it … But the young man solved this problem rather quickly.

Already after the first vacation, he received a special award of $ 50 for the best vacation work – it was the first money he earned. He soon became the editor of the institute’s literary magazine, became interested in music and ballet, and even took dance lessons.

At the end of his third year, Andrej got a job at a Pittsburgh department store – window dressing. His boss Larry Wallmer made a considerable impression on him – in particular, using the example of Salvator Dali, he convinced his subordinate that creative impulses and commercial success are compatible.




After graduating from university, our hero moved to New York. Like many, he simplified his first and last name – this is accepted in America. Instead of the full name of Andrej, he preferred to be called Andy – why not, even if US President Carter, when giving the presidential oath, called himself simply Jimmy? At the same time, he lost the last letter “a” of his last name and became just Andy Warhol.

He began work as a window dresser and advertising artist. Then he went on working as an illustrator for fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Andy’s first recognized success was a shoe ad, in an eccentric fashion with specially made blots.

He was looking for new methods of work, including those not included in the arsenal of artists – screen printing, silk-screen printing, projecting a photo onto a canvas and manually tracing the resulting image. He took ready-made photos from the media, and sometimes took them himself with a Polaroid camera.

The technologies developed by Warhol, with the help of photo printing and a number of other innovations, made it possible to create not one unique piece of art, but any number of completely identical copies. Whether it’s art or not is still debatable. Judging by the prices – art.




The themes of Warhol’s works arose for various reasons, including commercial ones. In 1960, he created a Coca-Cola can design that was talked about. He also has other works related to this topic – they also cost significantly more than a can of cola.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Green Coca-Cola bottles

But his most sensational work, perhaps, was 32 small paintings, only 51×41 cm, depicting different types of cans of Campbell’s canned soup. Some of them he created using the engraving method – semi-mechanized screen printing in a non-painterly style. There are even now lovers to argue whether it can be called art.

They say that the gallery owner Muriel Latov came up with this idea when she suggested that he draw “something that you see every day and something that everyone recognizes, like a can of Campbell’s soup”. Andy exclaimed, “Oh, sounds fabulous!”, bought all 32 cans of this soup in the supermarket and started working. He later said that he drew them because he had eaten them regularly for lunch for 20 years.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Campbell’s different soups

Those wishing to speculate about the belonging of these works to art, please note that in 2006 the Christie’s auction house sold Warhol’s painting Little Soup Can with a torn sticker for $ 11,800,000. If the very fact of selling a painting for such a price is not art, then I don’t know …


By joining the Huxleў friends club, you support philosophy, science and art




In 1963, Warhol was already earning enough to buy his own building on Manhattan Island, in the heart of New York. He called this building Factory, and indeed – the creation of works of art in the Factory was practically put on stream.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Factory Andy Warhol

The walls of the Factory were painted in silver color, a whole team of workers worked there, producing up to 80 works a day. Warhol did portraits of celebrities like this: he photographed them himself, transferred the best shot to canvas with silk-screen printing, and then either covered the surface with paint before reproduction, or painted on a ready-made print.

Warhol believed that celebrities in portraits should look better than in life – he removed skin defects and wrinkles, hid extra chins, painted lips and eyes brighter. His clients were the Shah of Iran with his family, and John Lennon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you never know who else …

But the main purpose of the Factory was different – it was more a party than production. Warhol welcomed all sorts of people: transvestites, drug addicts, unsuccessful actors. They talked about everything in the world, drank, smoked anything, injected, had sex, and Warhol, joining by no means everything, paternally extended his wing over all this chaos.




In addition to the production of pop art objects (or, if you like, creativity), Warhol also used the Factory as a film studio. In five years, from 1963 to 1968, he made several hundred films there – 472 four-minute black-and-white portrait screen tests, dozens of short films and more than 150 feature films, only 60 of which eventually saw the light of day.

Warhol said that he sought to reveal the essence of the sexual revolution – at first with pseudo-documentary plots, then with color films with a script, most often defiantly erotic content. They were very little like ordinary films.

Let’s say the movie Sleep was a 5-hour black-and-white footage of the sleeping poet John Giorno without a single sound. It premiered on January 17, 1964, with nine spectators showing up, two of whom left within the first hour. Actually, he wanted to shoot Brigitte Bardot, but he did not persuade her…

His other film, Empire, consisted of 8 hours of slow-motion footage of the Empire State Building skyscraper. He also failed to interest the audience with such a film. This, no doubt, was new, but novelty in art is far from everything.

His further film experiments, such as the 1973 film Love with the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld in the title role, also did not arouse the slightest noticeable interest. However, every creator has the right to experiment. Including the unsuccessful one.




In hangouts, like those at the Factory, the people were very different. Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist, was also there, raped by her own father as a child, living in a hut on the banks of the Hudson, who managed to work as a prostitute and almost died after an underground abortion.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Valerie Solanas

However, Warhol found something in her and even shot her in two of his films. She also wrote a screenplay called Up Your Ass (“Pick up your ass”) and handed it to Warhol. At first, he was going to shoot it, but read it carefully, and the script even for him seemed to be a mess.

Further, it is not entirely clear: either Warhol lost her script, or Valerie decided to kill the publisher of her book Society for Cutting Up Men, but could not find him and decided that Warhol was also good. She found Warhol and shot him three times, even hitting him once.

The artist survived a clinical death, but he was still saved – for a year after the operation he wore a special corset. And Valerie calmly left the building, ate an ice cream cone and surrendered to the policeman with the words, “I shot at Andy Warhol. He had too much control over my life.”

Warhol categorically refused to testify against her at the trial, and she escaped with three years in prison and coercion in a mental hospital. And Warhol, even more than before, became interested in the topics of disasters: electric chairs, accidents, funerals and so on …




After the assassination attempt, Andy did not lose interest in creativity. He tried, for example, to paint a racing car – just like an object that is in motion when you look at it. His statement has been preserved: “I tried to draw what speed looks like. When the car is moving at high speed, all the lines and colors are smeared.”

He openly stated that he wanted to earn a lot of money from his work and proclaimed the act of “turning the artist into a rotary machine”. It also affected the plots of his paintings and did not hurt their success: the painting $1 Bill was recently sold for 20,000,000 pounds.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Warhol painting $1 Bill

Warhol’s material success is not a temporary fad – between 1985 and 2010, average auction prices for Warhol’s work rose by 3,400%, roughly double the average price increase for contemporary art over the same period. Three of his paintings were on the list of the 25 most expensive masterpieces in the world – say, the painting Eight Elvises was sold for $100,000,000.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Painting Eight Elvises

Just in case, I will add that Warhol firmly declared himself openly gay, although he did not make an official coming out. His lover, for example, was the poet and actor John Giorno, whom he directed in the movie Sleep. How does it affect the evaluation of his work? I think that no way, but everyone is curious…




In 1987, he underwent a simple operation – the gallbladder was removed. But two weeks after it, when he was still at the Cornwell Medical Center in Manhattan, the artist’s heart stopped in a dream. Andy Warhol lived on earth for only 59 years. He was buried in his native Pittsburgh.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
His grave

After Warhol’s death, lawyers and relatives opened his apartment and found a huge warehouse there: clothes, shoes (after all, his creative success began with shoe advertising!), audio recordings and many wigs – he began to go bald early and always wore wigs, there were more than fifty of them. And they found only one painting – a small portrait of Mao, one of very many.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Such different Mao…

His art is still popular and relevant, disputes about him do not subside. In 2002, the US Postal Service issued a 37-cent stamp featuring his self-portrait. And in March 2011, a chrome statue of Andy Warhol was installed on the corner of Union Square in New York.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
US postage stamp

He is also remembered in Ukraine. As many as two monuments to Warhol were erected in Uzhgorod. One of them is made in the genre of mini-sculptures, which is popular in the city, and is located at the gates of the Bokshay Transcarpathian Art Museum. The second, in full growth, was recently opened in the square of pop art.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Andy Warhol from a  Family of Ethnic Ukrainians is the King of Pop Art
Monument in Uzhhorod

In April 2016, by the decision of the head of the Transcarpathian region, Gennady Moskal, the former October Square in the village of Mynai was named after Andy Warhol. Lemkos are our people, and it is clearly right to perpetuate the memory of such a famous Lemko. But perhaps not enough…


All illustrations from open sources

By joining the Huxleў friends club, you support philosophy, science and art
Share material

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: