Andy Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle (Special Edition) 167 is the third installment of a seven piece series following his original Hammer and Sickle portfolio. In 1976, Warhol took a trip in Italy and noticed graffiti art everywhere that depicted the infamous hammer and sickle symbol. Inspired by its ubiquity amongst the greater Italian population, Warhol returned to the states and had his assistant, Ronnie Cutrone, buy those same tools to photograph.
Hammer and Sickle (Special Edition) 167 follows the screen printing process, as we see each layer added to the assemblage before it becomes a loose replica of the party’s motif. The shapes harken a familiarity with the original design, but the sickle is more angular and the hammer dulled and rectangular. The tools’ deep red is the same threatening color as the original Communist flag. Warhol adds a gray shadow behind the tools to emphasize their shape and gives the objects more solidity than the Communist logo, and in doing so highlights their presence as objects and not a symbol. The shadow also takes the place of the star on the original sigil, further separating his design from the political ideology. Hammer and Sickle 167 contains no hand drawn elements, unlike versions 169 or 170, and decidedly places more emphasis on shape and form over style and function.
Warhol once commented that everyone in America was starting to think alike. “It’s happening here [in America] all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.” Given the homogenization of cultures and cities in America, Warhol’s matter-of-fact statement was true, but the idea of Communism was so terrifying to our country and Capitalist way of life that it seemed unimaginable to follow a regime such as that.
Hammer and Sickle also calls to question the power of emblems in culture, and their identity as only visual representations of a message. The Communist sign was a taboo because the Cold War, which threatened American democracy, was in its midst in the 1970’s. During this time, America was fearful that once democratic countries like Italy were vying for the utopian promise of Communism to improve their economy, especially because it was the governance we were fighting so hard against.
Warhol’s bold decision to create art based on their political unrest could be viewed as subjective towards their plight, using art to give him a voice in politics and culture, but Warhol did not intend to comment on morality or his individual beliefs about Communism in this series. His portfolio rather suggests that this symbol was pop art because it was at the forefront of pop culture. In breaking down it’s grim parts, Warhol disassociates the politics from the tools when they are together, instead making art that American pop culture can also comment on as the Italians have done.
Andy Warhol reflects on the traditional communist symbol in Hammer and Sickle (Special Edition) 167 but his work remains independent of political ideology. By taking these tools and breaking them down into their original function while alluding to communism, he creates a distinguishable irony and emphasizes the power that images can have on our psyche.