Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato Soup) (Painting)

Catalog Title: Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato Soup) (Painting)
Year: 1985
Size: 16" x 20"
Medium: Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Edition: Signed by Andy Warhol, dated 85, and stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol on the overlap

Andy Warhol’s prolific repertoire of imagery is one of the most impressive aspects of his career, but his depictions of soup cans, which were first exhibited in 1962 and made him globally famous, remain the iconic images with which he is most readily associated.

By the early 1980s, Warhol returned to what one might call his roots, finding inspiration for the superb Black & White Paintings series. This series was largely based on scraps of advertising matter – classified ads and illustrations from fliers – which he had collected over the years, mostly from the early and mid 1960s when was rising to fame.  The present work belongs to this later series but is exceptional for being an appropriation of one of his most iconic 1960s paintings.

The hallmark of the 1962 soup can paintings was their impersonal, mechanical finish.  Drawing on his decade-long experience in graphic design, Warhol carefully edited redundant content from the commercial motif to produce clear, slick forms which were, not incidentally, also perfectly suited to the constraints of the silkscreen technique.  A slap in the face to the intense gestural techniques of the Abstract Expressionists, and a shock to the system of that movement’s advocates, these pictures further confounded the existing art elite by appealing instantly to a vastly larger mass audience who embraced these pictures with an ease which the Abstract Expressionists could not provide them.  This led to the key trajectory of Warhol’s career: his unique social impact, vastly expanding the number of people interested in art.

However, in the late 1970s Warhol himself started to engage in gesture.    Though stripped of colors and obscured by coarse design, it is instantly obvious that Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato Soup) is an interpretation of one of his own earlier paintings drawn in a loose, coarser style that recalls the renderings of the crude illustrations in the ads he had collected and which he was now, in the early 1980s, revamping in the Black & White Paintings series.  Warhol probably perceived that, when shown a picture of a Campbell’s soup can, the average person was as likely to associate it with Andy Warhol as with tomato soup.   As such then, the picture references popular art as much as, if not more than popular culture; perhaps one can venture that it references popular art specifically as popular culture. In this way, Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato Soup) is an important dialectic between the works of the early 1960s and the artist’s thinking twenty years later.

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