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Amiga, Warhol, Debbie Harry: The ultimate 1980s tech keynote

Amiga, Warhol, Debbie Harry: The ultimate 1980s tech keynote

If I could go back in time and attend any tech-company press event I missed the first time around, I might set my Wayback Machine for July 23, 1985, which was 33 years ago this coming Monday. Once I arrived, I’d head to Lincoln Center and sneak into the extravaganza that Commodore held to introduce a new computer called the Amiga.

From a purely technological standpoint, the Amiga was a marvel, with graphics and multitasking muscle far beyond anything offered by the likes of Apple, IBM, or Tandy. (Its capabilities remained impressive more than two years later when I came up with the money to buy a later model, the Amiga 500.) But the reason I’d love to have been in the audience is to have been able to witness Andy Warhol use the computer to “paint” Blondie’s Debbie Harry.

Fortunately for you and me, the clip is readily available on YouTube:

I mean no disrespect to Warhol or Harry when I say that their participation in this event probably had a financial incentive. And all Warhol is doing is using GraphiCraft, a paint program, to flood a digitized image of the pop diva with color—a technique that probably appealed to him, since he was fond of self-imposed artistic limitations such as using a $20 Polaroid camera. But the whole stunt is a charming cultural artifact. (Harry: “Are you ready to paint me?” Warhol: “Yeah.”)

Warhol did spend some time with an Amiga after leaving the stage: His January 1986 interview in AmigaWorld magazine references a digital painting he did of Dolly Parton. And in 2014, additional, long-forgotten artwork was rescued from his Amiga floppy disks, including a self-portrait. He died in February 1987, when the Amiga 1000 he used still represented the state of the art in personal computer graphics.

For much more about Amiga than you really need to know, you can check out the tribute I wrote in 2010 when the machine turned 25.

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