Andy Warhol Digitally Paints Debbie Harry with the Amiga 1000 Computer (1985)

Say what you will about mid-eighties American culture, but how many historical moments could bring together a world-famous visual artist and rock star over a genuinely innovative consumer product? Maybe Apple could orchestrate something similar today; after all, we endure no drought of celebrity enthusiasm for iPods, iPads, iMacs, and iPhones. But could they come up with participants to match the iconic gravity of Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry? In the clip above, both of them arrive at the 1985 launch of the Commodore Amiga, and the silver-wigged one sits down to demonstrate the personal computer’s then-unparalleled graphical power by “painting” the Blondie frontwoman’s portrait. He tints it blue, clicks some red paint bucket here, clicks some yellow paint bucket there, and before we know it, we’re gazing upon a Warholian image ready for admiration, one we too could wield the digital power to create for a mere $1295 — in 1985 dollars.

To watch Warhol at the Amiga is to watch a man encounter a machine whose functions dovetail uncannily well with his own. The way he uses the computer casts a light on what people seem to find most brilliant and most infuriating about his work. “All he does is select fill and click on her hair and it turns yellow and its done?” types one YouTube commenter. “Her face is fucking blue.” Departing from the standard tone of YouTube discourse, another commenter tries to break it down: “As an artist myself, I find Andy Warhol a genius in making himself famous for art that anyone can do. I could take the same picture of Debra [sic] Harry and do the same thing in Photoshop. Andy Warhol was great at being Andy Warhol. His art was simply an extension of himself – simple and colorful.” Indeed, Warhol and Harry alike seem to understand that their work consists as much in the material they produce as in who they are, leaving no discernible boundary between the identity and value of the creator and the identity and value of the created.

Dedicated enthusiasts of Andy Warhol and/or the Commodore Amiga might also give his 1986 interview in Amiga World a look, despite its sketchy scan quality. It took place during the production of the MTV music- and talk-show Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, whose Amiga-enhanced promo spot (which features Debbie Harry) you can watch above. “Do you think [the Amiga] will push the artists?” Amiga World asks. “Do you think that people will be inclined to use all the different components of the art, music, video, etc.?” “That’s the best part about it,” Warhol replies. “An artist can really do the whole thing. Actually, he can make a film with everything on it, music and sound and art… everything.” “How do you feel about the fact that everyone’s work will now look like your own?” Amiga World asks. “But it doesn’t,” Warhol replies. Alas, Andy Warhol would not live to take advantage of the unprecedentedly rapid development of computer technology the nineties would bring, but that particular revolution has offered us all, in some sense, the chance to get Warholian.

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Related Content:

Warhol’s Screen Tests: Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper, Nico, and More

Three “Anti-Films” by Andy Warhol: Sleep, Eat & Kiss

Steven Spielberg Admits Swallowing a Transistor to Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Of course he was the ideal person to use for this. If he had sat down and started with a blank slate and quickly whipped up something insanely complicated, Commodore would not have convinced anyone that they too could use the machine to make art. They needed an artist who would produce something that *looked easy* to do. The more of the audience who thought they could do that *too*, as long as they got an Amiga, the better.

  • I’d love to watch a modern version: Banksy/Bono?

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