In the early 1960s, Andy Warhol’s paintings of everyday objects, such as Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans, revolutionized the art world. Warhol quickly became a leader in the Pop Art movement. Truly a multimedia artist, Warhol worked in printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. A recent exploration of the artist’s archives has uncovered proof that he also experimented with digital art.
In 1985, Warhol added personal computers to his art-making toolbox. A company called Commodore International invited Warhol to experiment with its new Amiga 1000 personal computer as a possible medium for his art.
Warhol tried the Amiga’s graphic arts software before a live audience at Lincoln Center in New York City. With a few clicks of the mouse, he created a digital portrait of pop singer Debbie Harry. The portrait may not seem that impressive by today’s digital art standards. But at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, Warhol’s work was groundbreaking.
DIGITAL TREASURE HUNT
When contemporary multimedia artist Cory Arcangel saw a YouTube clip of Warhol’s Amiga art experiment, he was inspired to investigate. Arcangel had a hunch that he might find lost digital artworks in Warhol’s old floppy disks. He headed to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which houses thousands of artworks by Warhol and an extensive archive. Arcangel enlisted experts from the museum, other artists, and the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club to find Warhol’s digital artwork.
The Computer Club engineers had to work their way backward through the Amiga computer’s programming to locate any files on the disks. The team eventually found some promising items. They called Arcangel in to witness the opening of the first file. The first image they revealed was a three-eyed Venus, the goddess of love.
Arcangel exclaimed, “I think that that’s a Warhol that nobody has ever seen before.”
The team eventually found 28 new digital artworks by Warhol. They even discovered a digitally drawn Campbell’s Soup can, which Warhol created using an ancestor of the modern tablet computer.
“News of the Warhol Amiga recovery project . . . spread like wildfire over Twitter,” said Tina Kukielski, the Carnegie Museum of Art curator who co-led the Warhol recovery mission with Arcangel.
Kukielski said she was amazed to learn that 1.7 billion people viewed the news of the Warhol recovery project. There is a lot of debate about the quality of the digital drawings. But most people agree that Warhol was a visionary for his use of digital technology.