Artist Andy Warhol may be best known for his paintings of Campbell's soup cans, but he also took a little-known side trip into the world of computer art back in 1985. He was commissioned by Commodore International to show off its Amiga 1000 computer's graphic arts uses.
Warhol obliged, dipping into the digital world by creating a three-eyed Venus, a portrait of Debbie Harry, an image of a banana, and an interesting rendition of his classic soup can. All in all, nearly a dozen signed experimental artworks were produced. As was the custom at the time, the files were stored on floppy disks. Remember those?
A bunch of ancient Amiga floppy disks aren't the greatest place for long-term storage of valuable artwork. Those disks have been in The Andy Warhol Museum's archive collection but were handed over to the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club for a delicate extraction process. The Computer Club prides itself on an impressive collection of out-of-date hardware, making it the perfect choice to mine the Amiga files.
"It was not known in advance whether any of Warhol's imagery existed on the floppy disks -- nearly all of which were system and application diskettes onto which, the team later discovered, Warhol had saved his own data," the Computer Club reports. Filenames included clues like "campbells.pic" and "marilyn1.pic." The actual file format used, however, proved to be a mystery requiring reverse-engineering in order to reveal the images.The process of saving the artwork was captured for a documentary series called "The Invisible Photograph."
"In the images, we see a mature artist who had spent about 50 years developing a specific hand-to-eye coordination now suddenly grappling with the bizarre new sensation of a mouse in his palm held several inches from the screen," says The Warhol Museum's chief archivist, Matt Wrbican.
The Warhol creations are a fascinating window into computer history that will probably remind many people of their first fumblings with graphics programs like Microsoft Paint or Apple's MacPaint. It's just that most of the rest of us don't have an artistic legacy like Warhol did.