Andy Warhol said it himself: “Art is anything you can get away with.” And he got away with making the most ordinary objects we see in everyday life beautiful and intriguing. He made groceries, common objects, and familiar faces into some of the most recognizable and iconic art works.
His Campbell’s Can of Soup series is among his most famous work. He started the series by making “portraits” of each of the 32 varieties of Campbell’s soups against a white background. Sometimes he used stencils and other times he used pencil, ink, crayons, acrylic and oil paints. He painted enormous still lifes or sad-looking soups with torn labels. Often times he multiplied the can image with the silkscreen method. One of the most famous pieces in the series is 100 Cans multiplying Beef Noodle soup 100 times.
Not only did his subject choice influence modern art but so did his most common silkscreen technique. With the silkscreen method he would start with a photo. He would then blow it up and transfer it in glue onto silk, and then toll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. Using this silkscreen method, you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was simple, quick, and chancy. That is why he loved it. But he also said once that the reason he paints this way is because he wants to be a machine: an art machine.
The primitive printing technique was the method for the next phase of his well-known pieces. The Disasters was a series of silkscreen pieces taken from newspaper clippings about horrific events usually involving death. One of his most famous among this phase was the Tunafish Disasters, the story of two women who were poisoned with tainted tuna. This piece was almost the exact black and white image that appeared in the original article. It even included the exact text from the news of the two deaths.
During this artistic phase he also reproduced images depicting plane crashes, suicides (horrific suicides like a man jumping off a building), car accidents, and other images of death such as an electric chair and guns. He was known for repeating the same image on the canvas illustrating the commonality of these types of events in everyday life. He also played with color to bring an even more haunting image to the viewer.
His fascination with both death and beautiful things led him to his next series, the Marilyns. The Marilyn series was a reproduction of the famous promotional image for the 1953 film “Niagara.” He made the photo into a silkscreen and screened a single image of her face onto small canvases. He then multiplied her image in Six Marilyns, Marilyn Twenty Times, and One Hundred Marilyns.
In some pieces he just painted her ruby lips and blonde hair with contrasting skin colors. In another Marilyn, he took multiple images of her lips, one of her most sensual and familiar features, creating a sort of kissing machine. For the famous Gold Marilyn Monroe, he painted the entire canvas with gold paint with a single picture of her face in the silkscreen depicting her as a goddess of sensuality.
A turning point in Warhol’s career was when Architect Philip Johnson, director of the Architecture and Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased Gold Marilyn Monroe for the museum. This gave Warhol great credence in the art world especially when a panel of critics, curators, and art historians saw his Gold Marilyn in the museum. That day they named the new modern art movement “Pop Art” short for popular, with Warhol as a pioneer.
Through his career, he went on to do portraits of many other well-known figures such as Mao, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Taylor, and Dolly Parton. Even his self-portraits became famous for his unique imagery and conceptual style that changed the face of modern art.