Image from entrance to Andy Warhol Museum
Ever have one of those moments of clarity that make you say to yourself, “Well, damn. That makes perfect sense!”? My most recent happened during a business trip to Pittsburgh, PA.
[Okay, quick side note. What’s with that honey-mustard yellow all over your city, Pittsburgh? I mean, yellow is supposed to be bright, cheery, uplifting. But that dull, toothachey tint on your bridges and stadiums sucks the joy out of life. Please, for humanity’s sake, if not your own, throw a coat of Rustoleum Gloss Sun Yellow spray paint on anything that looks like the bottom of a dingy gym shoe.]
So I was in Pittsburgh and had a couple hours to kill. Big on my traveling to-do list is taking in the local art scene. Now, you might not think Pittsburgh is a bourgeoning capital of the finer arts, given their penchant for puke yellow bridges, i’nat. But right there, on the corner of Sandusky and General Robinson Streets, I stepped into an ornate seven-story building and the Andy Warhol Museum.
When I hear the name Warhol, I imagine an eccentric middle-aged man beneath a spikey white wig, peering at me through small, serious eyes and an expressionless face. I remember discovering his art many years ago, wondering what the fuss was all about. He painted over someone else's photos. Or so the younger me thought. How artistic is that?
Fortunately, with age comes clarity. I’ve followed Warhol’s work for quite some time, even taking in an exhibit at Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center a couple years ago that featured some of his silk screen prints, many of his screen tests, and a generous number of black-and-white Polaroid photos. The museum in Pittsburgh documents his life and work, from childhood through his 1987 death. Whether or not you like his work, the man was prolific. He made sketches, paintings and blotted line illustrations. He took photographs and made films. He produced a Velvet Underground album, created album cover art work, and directed a music video for the Cars. He created commercial work, fine art, experiential art…art that goes far deeper than what you envision at first look. He transformed rooms and larger spaces, not just visually and environmentally but in a communal sense. The Factory, his sliver-soaked studio, was the place to be for New York’s artists in the 1960s, and his social life was every bit as colorful as his work.
Moving floor to floor through the Warhol Museum was inspiring. He was the twisted granddaddy of mixed media art decades before it was cool. From genre to genre, I took in paintings and photos, watched film, and listened to recordings. I even stood in the center of a room with silver floating, helium-filled balloons resembling clouds. This was art as I never before experienced. And then I saw the quote printed on a glass door...
“I just use whatever happens around me for my material. The world fascinates me."
I stood there for a minute, re-reading, thinking. Is it really that simple?
Where do you find inspiration? I’m always searching for it, and at times it comes to me in droves. Then there are times when my mind is like a white-washed fence. Blank. Dull. But reading Warhol’s quote brings it home. Very simply, if you’re looking to be inspired, it’s right there. It’s everywhere. It’s right in front of you, beneath you, beside you. It’s a photo, a person, a blog post, a video. It’s your dog chewing on a sock, a thumbprint on your phone screen. Inspiration is a condition of consciousness. It’s an openness that allows you to imagine freely, without the constraints of convention, style or morality. It’s the shunning of rule and the willingness to boldly express.
It’s putting fire-engine-red lips on a silk screen of Jackie Kennedy. It’s a three-minute black-and-white screen test of Dennis Hopper staring into a camera. It’s blobs of paint arranged to show a boy picking his nose. It’s purple cows and cans of soup.
If our eyes are open, it’s really not that hard. It all makes sense. Except honey-mustard yellow bridges. That makes no damn sense.