Van Heusen 356 by Andy Warhol is a screenprint from the artist’s Ads series, published in 1985. The series depicts ten famous images from mass media from the latter half of the twentieth century, as Warhol re-imagines popular and effective advertisements and propagandist media. Ads was commissioned and published by Ronald Feldman, a politically-minded art dealer who worked with Warhol on many of his projects in the 1980s.
This portrait of former President Ronald Reagan looks a little bit different than the one that would have hung in the White House Hall. In fact, Van Heusen 356 is a screenprint that takes Reagan’s likeness from before he was president. An actor first, Reagan worked as a film star until the mid-60’s and even served a “term” as an ambassador for Van Heusen shirts. The print hops off of the page like a 3D comic illustration, and despite the outline following the original advertisement, Warhol presents it with a dystopian cast. The anaglyphic Reagan’s light, cheerful countenance juxtaposed with the bold, slogan print holds an intensity that evokes a new color TV. Above, in a strip of photos not unlike a film roll, a paranormal-esque Ronald Reagan follows directions and twists, twirls, bends, and curls, the *no-wrinkle* shirt.
Warhol’s career began in the 1950’s as a commercial illustrator when Reagan was still regularly on the big screen. A Democrat, Warhol initially tried to avoid creating portraits of Ronald Reagan. However, close friend and business associate Bob Colacello (a Republican) first pushed Warhol to the idea years before Ads when trying to cunningly position the artist to do a portrait by speaking with Reagan prior to an agreement from Warhol. Years down the road, it would seem that the Van Heusen print was not the only work that pointed to a Ronald Reagan influence, regardless of the initial opposition. Reagan was also the host of television series “General Electric Theatre,” the logo of which Warhol used ample times in his oeuvre. With Ronald Reagan’s trifecta of being an actor, a 1950s household name, and the then-most well-known politician of the age… nothing could stand in the way of Warhol eventually depicting the notable in one manner or another.
As a whole, Warhol’s Ads series fully encompasses the artist’s obsession with celebrity, fame, and nostalgia. The portfolio explores the most recognizable of faces, slogans, and products throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s—sometimes with a twist. But as always, Warhol saw well-known images as ripe for recreation, and a great opportunity to attract the eyes of his society. The rest of the Ads portfolio includes Paramount, Mobilgas, Apple, Life Savers, Blackgama (Judy Garland), The New Spirit (Donald Duck), Chanel, Rebel Without a Cause, and Volkswagen.