In 1985, representatives of Commodore International approached Andy Warhol and asked him to test out the artistic chops of their new PC, the Amiga. The Amiga was a home computer with unparalleled graphic abilities compared to the black-and-white Macintoshes of the time. Warhol was so impressed with the computer and its Graphiccraft and ProPaint drawing software that he ended up using it to sketch Blondie’s Debbie Harry on stage during the Amiga launch event.
For almost 30 years, the only record of this early collision between art and technology was a two-minute video of the launch. But back in 2011, it got artist Cory Arcangel wondering. A sort of Andy Warhol of tech, and an Amiga enthusiast himself, Arcangel wanted to know if more of Warhol’s early bitmap experiments had survived.
Teaming up with the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club and the Andy Warhol Museum, Arcangel was able to dig up a collection of Amiga floppies that he remembered seeing (but not actually sifting through) at Warhol’s New York City studio in 1991. In those floppies, Arcangel found a treasure trove of Warhol’s early digital experiments, ranging from a crude take on the Campbell’s soup can to trippy self-portraits of Warhol posing for the Amiga’s rudimentary web cam to a three-eyed version of Botticelli’s Venus.
“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 Andy Warhol Museum’s chief archivist, Matt Wrbican, in a press release about the discovery.
Although we often think of Warhol within the context of his earlier work, these Amiga images show that he was every bit as willing to experiment in the digital ’80s as he was in the Pop Art ’60s.
Warhol might’ve felt at home on an Amiga, but if he’d lived longer, he probably would have preferred an iPad or a similar touchscreen device, instead of clumsily wrestling with a mouse. “No doubt he resisted the urge to physically touch the screen–it had to be enormously frustrating,” Wrbican says. “We can only wonder how he would explore and exploit the technologies that are so ubiquitous today.”