CATHOLIC CELEBRITY PROFILE: Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
This famous pop artist, avant-garde filmmaker and so much else was the darling of Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy. He delighted in what many of us would regard as tacky or mundane. I can still remember his Campbell’s Soup Can picture— ah, made me hungry to look at it! Although some thought his work was cheap, many critics today rank him in the same category of creativity with Picasso, although with more diffused interests.
As a child, his family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, PA. When he died, his two brothers had the body brought back to Pittsburgh. During the wake, he was posed with a small prayer book and a red rose. The Mass was held at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church. The eulogy was given by Msgr. Peter Tay. After the Mass, the priest and procession drove to the old family church cemetery where he was buried next to his parents. Another memorial service was later held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
If his work was regarded as peculiar, his personal life was no less enigmatic. Many regarded him as a homosexual and yet it is also said that his personal virginity was unassailed.
I have to wonder if he did not purposely exalt the commercial and secular so that we might better see the naked truth about ourselves and our culture. His juxtaposing a religious message and consumerism in his last works seems to demonstrate this fusion and/or contradiction with which we live. Many of us did not like his work and many of his messages, I suspect, because he pushed up into our faces the artificiality and market-mentality that possesses us. Even Leonardo da Vinci’s LAST SUPPER, has become the stuff of home decoration, with cheap rip-offs but void of true meaning. He took this work and multiplied it over and over again with secular signs added. It was awful— it was our society held up against a mirror.
THE LAST SUPPER (1986)
Many people are surprised to discover that Warhol was a practicing Catholic, although of the Eastern or Byzantine rite. He often went to Mass at Roman Catholic churches. He saw himself as a religious person and personally volunteered at New York homeless shelters. A number of private religious works were discovered in his estate after his death. He went to daily Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer in New York. The pastor reported that he would kneel or sit in the back but rarely came up to the altar for communion for fear of being recognized. It is said that, given some of his art and films, he was afraid to bring scandal upon the Church. One of his brothers stated that he was “really religious” but also intensely “private” about his Catholic faith. The art historian John Richardson in a eulogy noted that he was devout, saying, “To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood” (Wikepedia).
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