Andy Warhol was one of the founding members of the new art movement that began in the mid to late fifties, which was most commonly referred to as “Pop Art,” which was short for “Popular Culture. ” “Pop Art” takes its subject matter from popular culture such as comic strips, motion pictures, and advertising, as well as ordinary everyday objects, which are portrayed by using various artistic technologies. Warhol’s art didn”t lack in meaning, but is, rather, full with it. It is correct that Andy’s paintings focused on the representations of recognizable subjects usually based on pictures from existing imagery.
Andy Warhol’s artwork epitomized the prevailing cultural and moral spirit of the time. Through the examination of paintings such as Elvis I and II, this becomes clear. Also, he himself often said that he felt apart from life, yet he reflected and influenced it by being at its center. The subject matter of Andy Warhol’s earliest artwork reflected numerous aspects of American Culture. Warhol did not only display his dollar bill paintings, composed of rows and rows of dollar bills, at his first show, but also displayed his famous Campbell’s Soup can paintings.
Everyone was familiar with the recognizable can of Campbell’s Soup, but Warhol was the first artist to have the idea of making a painting of a soup can and call it art. When Warhol was asked what prompted him to paint money and soup he responded: “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use everyday and never think about I just do it because I like it” (David Bourdon, Warhol, p. 90. ). Warhol would paint his pictures of soup can generally filling the entire surface of the canvas, creating a sea of labels that resembled a fully stocked aisle in a supermarket.
Among his other first paintings were his 210 Coca-Cola Bottles and Green Coca-Cola Bottles were he painted rows on rows of Coke Bottles using the silk-screen method. Many of Warhol’s other famous paintings where he repeated the subject row upon row in a grid like fashion were his paintings of postage stamps, handle with Care – Glass Stickers and the Mona Lisa. Warhol’s paintings of everyday products that any consumer could purchase in a grocery store, reflected Warhol’s understanding of the egalitarianism of American culture; they reflected the equal right of all Americans to enjoy the same products.
Warhol said: “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 can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke” (David Bourdon, Warhol p. 76). Moreover, his portrayal of something as basic as a Campbell’s Soup can, simply showed that society had become bored with expressionistic art.
Warhol’s red-and-white-labeled pictures signaled a cold-blooded rebellion against the centuries long tradition of painterly still lives”(David Bourdon, Warhol. P. 88). His paintings represented contemporary reality. Furthermore, his paintings of dollar bills reflected the materialistic spirit of 1960 American. Finally, the grid organization that Warhol used in his paintings implied the mass production, uniformity, conformity, and the commercialism that pervaded American culture. Therefore, upon close examination of Andy Warhol’s creations, the images depicted on the canvas transform into the societal values of America in 1960s.
Andy Warhol’s deep obsession with Hollywood icons, such as Marilyn Manroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley, was manifested in much of his artwork throughout his career. It has been written about Warhol that he was “a lifelong, star-struck fan of Hollywood movies, and their influence upon him and his artwork was self evident” (Andy Warhol, The philosophy of Andy Warhol, p. 205). This fixation mirrored society’s obsession with superficiality of Hollywood, indicating that the era of the 1960s was relatively devoid of intellectual and spiritual values.
This was an era that was infatuated with stardom and looked upon celebrities as role models. Andy Warhol’s “Elvis I and II”, created in 1964, clearly exemplified Andy’s preoccupation with Hollywood. The image of Elvis that was taken from Fan Magazine portrayed him as a hero with a Six Shooter in hand. Although this is not Elvis at the height of his career, but Elvis as a fading star, Warhol still depicted his as a superstar. American society, as well as Warhol, was so infatuated with the “celebrity image” that it, in turn, associated Elvis with Hollywood which therefore meant greatness.
One of the Hollywood superstars that Warhol was most fascinated with was Marilyn Manroe. Not only was she constantly the center of the media’s attention, but her striking beauty served as a perfect subject for many of Warhol’s paintings. After her tragic death in 1962, Marilyn became one of the principal focuses of Warhol’s art. He bagan producing works which exhibited Marilyn repeatedly in symmetrical rows. Some examples of these works are “Marilyn Diptych,” “Nine Multicolored Marilyns,” and “Marilyn”. Furthermore, immediately following Marilyn’s death, the world seemed somber and depressed.
Warhol was, too affected by her death, but was most captivated by another issue: he was justifiably impressed by the phenomenal amount of press coverage he death received. The fact that there was such a vast amount of media coverage proved that society thrived on events such as Marilyn’s death. Had it not been for society’s preoccupation with Hollywood, then the media would not have had a niche which to provide information. This shows that the 1960’s were undeniably obsessed with celebrities and other superficial entities.
It was a time where fame, glamour, and even personality became commodities; society would use any means possible in order to achieve these elements. Warhol, thus, played upon this superficial personality of American culture and, in turn, incorporated it within his art. Andy Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series was, yet, another collection that offered an exact reflection of the societal values of American culture in the Sixties. In the summer of 1962, Warhol became obsessed with daily news events. It was not the actual event that interested Warhol, but was, rather, the amount of publicity that the event received.
He was extremely interested in the media and the influence that it had on people’s lives; he was intrigued with how vulnerable society was to the media’s influence. This preoccupation led him to create his “Death and Disaster” series, which included everyday subjects such as car crashes, disasters, and electric chairs. The first focus of his “Death Series” was the Daily News headlines “129 die in jet” Other works in this series include “Optical Car Crash”, “Ambulance Disaster”, and “Lavender Disaster”. Furthermore, Andy Warhol dealt with the assassination of the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
Warhol had said about Kennedy’s death “it didn”t bother me that he was dead. What bothered me was the way that television and radio were programming everybody to be so sad” (Carter Ratcliff, Warhol, p. 38). He was so taken by the fact that the media was able to manipulate people’s emotions that he soon began his series of Jackie Paintings, which displayed Kennedy’s grieving widow. Warhol knew that these multiplied images of Mrs. Kennedy would have tremendous impact on the world, for all the other forms of media appeared to be having such an effect.
Thus, Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series truly reflected the values of the era in which he lived. He knew that his work would be successful since some of his most famous pieces dealt with two of society’s favorite topics; the topics of death and the topic of violence. Society was so very intrigued by an event such as an assassination or death by the electric chair, and the media was aware of this. Warhol was fascinated by the fact that an occurrence such as a car crash was highly publicized by the media.
At the same time, he recognized that society was truly interested in such events, because it was very vulnerable to the influence of the media. Therefore, Warhol’s artwork was not shocking or inappropriate, but, rather a true reflection of the values, or lack there of in society. When faced with the question of ” Who was Andy Warhol, and what was the significance of his artwork”, the answer is clearer then most people realize. Warhol was simply living a life and painting artwork that was the epitome of America culture of the Sixties.
Everything and anything Warhol did reflected the society in which he lived. ” He held an objective mirror to our plastic society, took America’s faltering pulse and illuminated the foibles and fixations of our times (Kynaston McShine, Andy Warhol a Retrospective, p. 461. ). In conclusion, his paintings have tremendously impacted society, as they have kept the ideologies of the Sixties alive throughout the Seventies, Eighties, and even today. Thus, the artwork of Andy Warhol will forever keep the spirit of the 1960s America alive.