Andy Warhol - from Soup Cans to Celebrities
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
‘32 Campbell's Soup Cans’, 1962 ( synthetic polymer paint on canvas)
If there was one artist who personified Pop Art it was Andy Warhol. He originally worked as a 'commercial artist' and his subject matter was derived from the imagery of mass-culture: advertising, comics, newspapers, TV and the movies.
Warhol embodied the spirit of American popular culture and elevated its imagery to the status of museum art. He used second-hand images of celebrities and consumer products which he believed had an intrinsic banality that made them more interesting. He felt that they had been stripped of their meaning and emotional presence through their mass-exposure. Typically subverting the values of the art establishment, Warhol was fascinated by this banality which he celebrated in a series of subjects ranging from soup cans to celebrities. Whether it was a painting of 'Campbell's Chicken Noodle' or a 'Car Crash', a portrait of 'Elizabeth Taylor' or the 'Electric Chair', Warhol's detached approach was always the same: "I think every painting should be the same size and the same color so they're all interchangeable and nobody thinks they have a better or worse painting."
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
‘Three Coke Bottles’, 1962 ( silkscreen, ink, and graphite on linen)
Warhol saw this aesthetic of mass-production as a reflection of contemporary American culture: "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it." The obvious irony of this statement is that the price of that Coke bottle hits the stratosphere as soon as Warhol signs it.
As Cubism stands on the shoulders of Cézanne, Warhol's art is dependant on Duchamp's 'readymades. He was really a Dadaist in spirit - an 'agent provocateur'. His many whimsical proclamations about art were deliberately enigmatic and contrary, avoiding clarification and forcing his audience to speculate on their meaning: "I'd prefer to remain a mystery. I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I'm asked." Warhol's evasive attitude was a strategy, the result of which was self publicity. He cultivated his own image like a business model which was inseparable from his art. He said, "I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art."
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
‘Marilyn Diptych’, 1962 (silkscreen on canvas)
Warhol was against the idea of skill and craftsmanship as a way of expressing the artist's personality. He claimed to have removed both craftsmanship and personality from his own art: "The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.............If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, there I am. There's nothing behind it." His works were produced through the mechanical processes of film and silkscreen printing or made by others in his studio which was called 'The Factory'.
Warhol's paradoxical statements such as, "I am a deeply superficial person" or "art should be meaningful in the most shallow way" are echoed in his work. The left hand panel of his ‘Marilyn Diptych’ is a crudely colored photograph of the actress whose sense of 'self' is degraded through the repetition of her image, whereas the right hand panel is a physically degraded black and white image (as the printing ink runs out on the silkscreen) that reflects the ephemeral qualities of fame. Their combined panels are a memorable discourse on the nature of celebrity and its power to both create and destroy its acquaintances. The 'diptych' format was originally used in medieval painting for religious images of personal devotion, an appropriate choice considering Warhol's fascination for Marilyn Monroe. The work was exhibited in Warhol's first New York exhibition at the Stable Gallery in November 1962, just weeks after Marilyn's death from 'acute barbiturate poisoning'. The Marilyn Diptych, along with his other famous Marilyn paintings, is based on a 1953 publicity photograph for the film 'Niagara' that Warhol purchased only days after she died.