How the Commodore Amiga Turned Andy Warhol into a Computer Artist
Commodore tried to upstage Apple by bringing out Andy Warhol and Deborah Harry for its Amiga launch event. It didn’t work, but Warhol showed genuine excitement for the platform.
Image: Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
Commodore tried to upstage Apple by bringing out Andy Warhol and Deborah Harry for its Amiga launch event. It didn't work, but Warhol showed genuine excitement for the platform.
Apple's decision to go big and flashy with its launch of the Macintosh meant that there were some copycats.
Among those copycats in the mid-80s was its most prominent home-computer competitor: Commodore. In 1985, the company brought the Amiga to the public eye in a flashy event at the Lincoln Center in New York City, which you can watch over this way.
The first model of the Amiga had a number of major advantages over the initial iteration of the Mac, including its broad color palette, its impressive animation capabilities, and its ability to multitask. (These capabilities later came in handy in the world of cable television.)
Amiga's software engineering head, Bob Pariseau, was the guy doing most of the talking during the launch event. He was fine, but he was no Steve Jobs.
Fortunately, Commodore had something better than Steve Jobs: Andy Warhol and Deborah Harry, who came out to demo the machine's artistic capabilities.
"Are you ready to paint me?" Harry gamely asked Warhol.
After doing a flood fill on a digital snapshot of Harry—impressive then, and similar to Warhol's silkscreens, but soon something that Microsoft Paint users worldwide could recreate painlessly—an interviewer asked Warhol how the Amiga compared to other machines he had played with.
"I haven't worked on anything. I waited for this one," Warhol responded.
It wasn't actually the first time Warhol had used a computer—the Computer History Museum notes he had briefly played with an early Mac at a birthday party for art-world heir Sean Lennon—but Warhol quickly embraced the Amiga as an important new creative tool. (Before that, he was more excited about Xerox machines.)
In 1986, he showed up on the cover of Amiga World magazine, in an interview where he expressed excitement for the machine. He even produced a short movie with the device—something that didn't get revealed until decades after his 1987 passing.
He may have been pulled into the Amiga event in the name of upstaging Apple, but Andy Warhol's interest in the Amiga was genuine.
Re-Exposure is an occasional Motherboard feature where we look back on delightful old tech photos from wire service archives.