Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the pop art movement, which dominated the contemporary art scene from the 1960s. The pop art movement emerged in the mid/late 1950’s, in the UK (more academic) and USA (as a response by artists). One of the aims of the movement was to use images of popular culture as opposed to elitist, emphasizing the kitsch of cultures.
In pop art, the subject is often visually removed from its known context and usually takes imagery used in advertising. Due to the use of objects and images, it is a similar movement to Dada.
In addition to using consumer products as subject matter, pop artists also adopted the style used in their production or marketing. For instance, Lichtenstein used Benday dots – coloured dots that were placed evenly in a particular area, often utilised in newspaper and magazine advertising – for his blown-up frames of comic strips.
For Warhol, his repeated silkscreen printing of images replicated the process of the mass production of consumer products. The artist had quipped in an interview, “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.”
Warhol’s work as a commercial artist paved the way for his pop art style, which bore the polished aesthetic of advertisement campaigns that he was used to working on.
Campbell’s soup cans is one of Andy Warhol’s famous works. It was produced between November 1961 and April 1962. It is made up of 32 canvases, each one representing the canned soup varieties that the company offered at the time.
Warhol’s piece is the one that made pop art a major art movement in the USA. The debates that stemmed from the merits and ethics of such work made Andy Warhol the most well-known pop artist.
The most recognizable of Warhol’s works are the ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ (1962), featuring 32 canvases depicting hand-painted renditions of the 32 different soup varieties Campbell’s Soup Company offered at the time. These were first displayed at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962 by the gallerist on a ledge as if they were on a shelf to be bought.
The multiplicity of an image in Warhol’s work brought attention to the ubiquity of the chosen object. ‘100 Cans’ (1962) is another early work featuring Campbell’s soup cans. It was painted by hand with the use of stencils. ‘200 One Dollar Bills’ (1962) from the ‘Dollar Bill’ series, featuring a 20-by-10 grid of dollar bills was created based on the same idea, and using the same method.
Another household item that achieved iconic status in Warhol’s hands was the ‘Brillo Box’, among other cartoned goods, which Warhol reproduced as wooden sculptures, screen-printing their packaging onto plywood blocks. Warhol also deployed images of celebrities in his work, such as Marilyn Monroe in ‘The Marilyn Diptych’ (1962) and ‘Gold Marilyn Monroe’ (1962).
The process used to create the work resembled a production line.
“Warhol made these paintings using a multi-step process. First, a pencil underdrawing of the soup cans outline was made on each canvas, possibly by tracing a projection of a drawing…. Next, the can and label were painted by hand, and the lettering for each variety was projected and painted onto each canvas. Finally, the gold fleur-de-lis at the bottom of each can were applied with a stamp cut from a rubber eraser.”
In using this as well as other people’s ideas, he prompted society to question the value of his art and thus forcing society to reflect on the theme of consumerism.
Andy Warhol’s legacy lives on: in the art world, in history and advertising. He showed
a different side of art, a different way of perceiving it by simply changing the ”subject” and introduced the viewer
to consumerism, the evolution of which is more present today than ever.
Compared to other artists of the movement, he didn’t use irony directly, but instead he placed cultural objects
into plain view for society to make their own judgements. It’s as if Warhol held a mirror so that society could see its consumer self.