Andy Blank’s Hero Is Andy Warhol. Can He Match His Artistic Success?
What if Andy Warhol’s Factory was a Brooklyn e-commerce start-up? Andy Blank shows The Daily Beast inside his unique fine art factory.
Meet Andy Blank. Or, I should say, a man who publicly goes by the name Andy Blank, but keeps his real identity secret. (We’ll call him Andy here.)
“It’s not really a person… but it also is,” half explained Andy of himself. “It's a company with the name of an artist.”
Blank is directly inspired by another famous Andy—Warhol—although his business model is very much of 2019.
Warhol, who many consider the father of pop-art, helped introduce fine art to the masses through approachable subject matter and a variety of mediums. Instead of focusing on the allegorical, or abstract expressionism that defined the era before him, he focused on pop culture and elevating the mundane.
His silk screens of icons like Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe are consistently featured on the walls of dorm rooms across America, with prints of his canned goods thoughtfully placed in kitchens around the world, proving his popularity and influence are in no danger of becoming passé.
But where Warhol’s persona, his iconic white wig, and his entourage of Manic Pixie Dream Girls were part of his allure, Andy Blank wants to live up to his more shyness-embracing surname.
Blank’s first name is a clear nod to the aforementioned artistic giant whom this Andy described emphatically as “just legendary.” But as for his surname, that was more of a struggle.
“It started with Andy. But it’s impossible to trademark ‘Andy’ itself. So that’s where Blank came in. Maybe because of blank canvases. Maybe just because I couldn’t think of a second name.”
He admits the secret identity may serve as a slight hook of intrigue, but argues that wasn’t the main inspiration. “I liked the anonymity. I’m kind of private.” So he decided to remove himself from the picture, literally. While you may see parts of his body in some of his art, or captured in his very-active Instagram stories, his face or any identifying details are never revealed, or are purposely obscured. “Andy Blank is a brand,” he said; an idea. And he didn’t want his true self obscuring that message.
The interchangeable brand and identity were birthed into existence merely a year ago, with one simple mission: make fine, modern art, make it well, but also make it affordable and approachable.
The fine art sphere is a world that thrives on exclusivity, with a heavy dose of aspiration. Outsiders can easily feel like it’s party where you’re not cool enough to be invited, but if you manage to sneak through the door, everyone is laughing about an esoteric joke that you’re not sure you get, and maybe you giggle along trying to blend in while you briefly vacation in “society.” In short: belonging in it can feel remarkably out of reach, if not likely financially improbable for most of us.
It’s an issue Andy understood all too well when working peripherally in the industry, but not yet a professional artist himself.
“I was seeing artists with starting commissions at $20-grand or something. And if you have $20,000, you’re in the door. But just so many people don’t have that.”
As he was trying to decorate his apartment after a move, he identified a major hole in the market. “You can go to Ikea and get a beautiful black and white photo of a double decker bus for $60,” he explained, “but then everyone’s got it. And there was nothing in the middle.”
He set off to figure out how to make affordable art—nothing is over $200—without sacrificing quality or originality. He opened his expansive studio space (his artist loft serving as the Millennial iteration of architecture porn that oozes impossible levels of cool, much like Amanda Peet’s loft in Igby Goes Down did for Gen-X) and has run it like a factory, with a few different team members working together to create the final products.
One corner acts as staging, another for editing. Boxes ready to be shipped occupy a perfectly organized corner, situated next to a shelving unit filled with different chairs used to anchor product shots. Long tables are lined up with in-progress paintings, waiting for their next step.
Much like his like-named predecessor did in his factory, this Andy uses bright colors, celebrates everyday objects like balloons, tennis balls, and skateboards, and experiments with a variety of mediums. Because, above all, he wants to make sure his art is inviting.
“I want it to be friendly,” especially for those intimidated by more traditionally “serious” art, he explained. “It’s almost like Andy is a gateway drug to real art.” In order to maintain a certain level of exclusivity that is appealing about traditional fine art, Andy’s series are all limited to 100.
Early on, Andy embraced Instagram as a medium to get his art out to a wide audience—a popular and, frankly, savvy strategy among a younger generation of artists that have emerged in the digital age. “I guess it is also part of the art,” he explains of his use of the social platform. “I think it's part of the brand to show everything. To show the process. That it's all handmade”. And, just to make sure he is extra relatable, he doesn’t just show the successes: “I'm not hiding anything. This is what it is. I try to make it the best quality. But also, you know, I fuck up a lot.”
He wanted to make the process of finding and buying art as easy as possible for people, so in addition to his active Instagram, Andy launched his eponymous e-commerce site, where prospective clients could search through the available artworks. “People can just look at stuff and be like, ‘Oh, I like that!’ And then they just get it and hang it and are like, ‘that was really easy!”
He took the ease one step further, wanting to make the process as seamless as possible to encourage budding art enthusiasts. He originally only sold prints pre-framed—all art arriving at your doorstep with a colorful “FRAGILE” emblazoned in spray-paint across the front—and included an easy to follow set of instructions, cleaning cloth, and tools to hang your new artwork in every package.
If you find yourself not knowing where to hang your new Andy Blank, advice is just a message away. “People send a picture of their living room and ask ‘Where should I put this?” He’ll happily offer his advice, his Instagram messages acting as a modern take on customer service.
After six months of direct-to-consumer feedback, Andy has pivoted slightly to tailor his product to his client base. “I’m learning a lot of what this demographic wants and a lot of them want to just pin it to the wall.” As such, he now sells rolled up prints on his site in addition to the original framed option.
This type of self-editing and listening to his consumers is part of the business model of Andy Blank. “If no one’s buying paintings, and it's all photography then I'm like, what's the point of doing paintings?” Part of the “art” for Andy is serving and listening to his customers. And he’s collecting ample and valuable information in the process.
Through both purchases and interacting with buyers on Instagram, he has been able to gather the general demographics of his collectors, things like age range, gender, location, etc. He’s able to see what colors do best; what subject-matter and medium seem the most interesting; what sizes people prefer; what time of year do people buy? “I’d love to sell the data to Ikea some day,” he laughed.
For now, Andy Blanks are only available to be shipped within the US (unless you have a cool friend willing to forward the package along internationally). He said that the main destinations are the obvious big artsy cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit, but has also found a steady fanbase throughout Texas. His relatively low price point and the ease of the process are helping to diversify and expand a new generation of art collectors, or so he hopes.
“We’re sending stuff all over the country. Maybe 25-30 shipments a day. It’s really encouraging.” he said. “Like, people in Montana are buying. Go Montana!”