Andy Warhol: The Pioneer Of Pop Art
Everyone’s heard of Andy Warhol, famous for pioneering the 1960’s movement of pop art and his commercialisation of everyday objects and celebrities. Following WW2, Warhol captured the mass production and consumer culture boom through his art. Most notably, his Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) piece which summarises these ideas.
Warhol painted thirty-two canvases of Campbell’s soup cans by hand, with each painting corresponding to a different flavour that Campbell’s released. By exhibiting these paintings on shelves, he imitated the display of commodities in a supermarket aisle. He was inspired by the method of advertising and the standardisation of these items that corporate companies like Campbell’s capitalised on. Through his use of repetition in this artwork, he painstakingly hand-painting the same can of soup over and over again, only varying it with different text labels to identify the specific flavours. He also used arrangements of intricate patterns, which line the bottom of the can, to emphasise the aspect of duplication. Although, Warhol’s exhibition wasn’t as widely accepted as they were at a supermarket. Critics harshly deemed that these everyday items aren’t special, and they have no relevance artistically. However, this is mostly the point. For centuries, artworks that lined museums and galleries had no connection to the world that these artists lived in today. So the only logical – or non-logical – thing to do would be to paint what’s around you every day.
Through his artwork, the reappropriation of usual objects, and the heavy use of repetition, he addressed the issues of consumer culture. Exposing the audience to multiple copies of the same object or person almost desensitises the viewer to the point where they do not see that object anymore, instead, they begin to see a symbol of pop culture. Through his art, he iconises people and objects (like he did with Marilyn Monroe in his diptychs of her which he created after her sudden death). He gives regular objects importance and meaning to the point where they do not mean anything at all, which directly links to consumer culture. We consume all of these products because, at first, they seem to hold great importance. But over time, through the process of rapid consumption, these products no longer hold the significance they once did. Campbell’s Soup Cans He essentially lived off these cans of soup, stating, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” This sheds light on how deeply rooted ordinary objects can be in our lives. This particular idea is further reinforced through how Warhol used the method of screen-printing to create duplicates of this piece.
Screen printing has an extensive history, first emerging as a distinguishable art form in China during the Song Dynasty and was later introduced to the West during the late 18th century. Warhol made the method of screen printing extremely widespread, establishing it as an artistic technique in the West. It was a fast and easy way of creating multiple copies of art without changing it, therefore, screen printing was made to be efficient in mass-producing products. Warhol viewed art as an everyday product, much like the food we consume, the clothes we wear and the televisions we watch entertaining content on. ‘The Factory’ is what Warhol called the studio in which he created all of his artwork – this is a clear indication of the mass-produced nature of his art. He lived in a post WW2 era – the boom of media and manufacture. America’s youth had more disposable income, therefore, they were allowed to take part in the consumption of popular culture in a more direct way. Using his observations of society at the time, he created pop art as a response to his environment. He helped bridge the gap between high end ‘fine arts’ (that primarily belonged to the upper class) and other art forms, allowing his art to be consumed by everyone, irrespective of their status in society. Being a direct descendent of Dadaism, pop art is an art movement that mocks the art world through the reappropriation of ordinary images and objects from the world around you. In a sense, pop art is quite anti-art, the same way Dada art is.
Warhol’s art and ideas are still relevant to our current society. He changed the perception of what it means to be an ‘artist’. Through ‘The Factory’ he was able to have multiple people working together to create art by following his instructions and creative direction. This planted the idea that artists don’t have to be physically connected to the final piece, rather, artists should be conceptually linked. This reimagined the idea of the artist as ‘the designer’ instead. In addition, Warhol and his art is completely relevant when addressing our rapid consumer culture. We are materialistic. We buy products, use it for a few years, get bored with it and then ultimately get rid of it, allowing us to move on to the next new best thing. The hunger and greed for newness and quantity is a problem we need to address and overcome due to its lack of sustainability, especially when we’re facing pressing issues like climate change. Warhol highlighted these ideas through his artwork by mocking futility of our modern world.