Rebel Without a Cause by Andy Warhol is a screenprint depicting actor James Dean from the artist’s 1985 Ads portfolio. The portfolio was commissioned by Ronald Feldman of Feldman Fine Arts, who worked with Warhol prolifically in the 1980s.
Burning for rebellion is Andy Warhol’s love of uniquely modernized versions of classic advertisements, and it reaches its peak in his Ads series. Rebel Without a Cause 355 is inspired by the Rebel Without a Cause original 1955 movie billboard, with a bit of a twist. Warhol’s advertisement best reflects the versions of the promotional poster released in Japan with script filling the left side of the composition. While much of his oeuvre focuses on American consumerism, Warhol’s use of the Japanese poster’s aesthetic is a visual reminder of the universality of media consumption and glorification.
James Dean, the star of the movie, is illustrated to the composition’s right in a cartoon-like fashion demonstrative of Warhol’s creative expression and background as an illustrator. Set behind him is a nearly identical second illustration, faded as if an apparition of the character’s conscience that he struggles with throughout the vintage film. Centering around teens who get lost in lawlessness and parent-child struggles, the film’s exploration of morality with the added star-factor of big Hollywood leads was bound to draw Warhol and his penchant for the American dream… and all of the cracks in its star-spangled façade.
In his Ads series, Warhol reawakens the most notable of emblems, trademarks, and logos and speaks to the subconscious influence that glamorous packaging and big names have on American consumption habits. At its center, the portfolio is an exploration of pop culture and how the celebrity becomes even more celebrity through branded imagery. Made up of iconography from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Ads encompasses Mobil Gas, Blackglama, Chanel, Apple, Paramount, Van Heusen, Volkswagen, Life Savers, the New Spirit, and of course, Rebel Without a Cause 355.
Photo credit: Andy Warhol looking at Phil Stern’s photographs of James Dean, 1986.