Andy Warhol and Nico.

Artist Andy Warhol (center) chats with Nico of The Velvet Underground at a dinner for the New York Society of Clinical Psychiatry in January 1966.

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Simply put, Andy Warhol is one of most influential artists of the 20th century. He's the most famous of the so-called Pop artists who emerged from the 1960's New York City counterculture. Throughout a prolific creative career that spanned drawing, painting, printmaking, film, music and video, Warhol left an indelible impression on American culture and modern art.

A recurring theme throughout Warhol's work is the transformation of the mundane and commonplace into art [source: Osterwold]. His most enduring images are silk-screened reproductions of Campbell's soup cans and repetitive, brightly colored "portraits" -- direct copies of film stills and publicity photographs -- of pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.

Art and film critics have filled volumes with theories about the motivation and meaning of Warhol's work, but the artist himself was famously opaque. He was quick to downplay even his most influential works of art as meaningless and to portray himself as a simple "machine" churning out a product [source: Kinsman].

But even through his mask of ironic detachment, it's clear that Warhol was an artistic revolutionary posing as an accidental celebrity. He had a remarkable eye for pop iconography (he invented the very concept) and a prescient ability to read the national psyche. He was a cult of personality who drew in a creative circle that included groundbreaking musicians like Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, actors like Dennis Hopper, and a "who's who" of New York's avant-garde art scene.

Keep reading to learn about Warhol's early life and influences and his surprisingly conventional path to unconventionality.