Andy Warhol and His Soup Cans

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Andy Warhol’s rise to fame was not an easy one. Troubled by his profession as a commercial artist in New York, he struggled to gain recognition as a real artist, yet he kept at it. He experimented with different styles of art hoping to get a solo exhibition at a gallery. One of Warhol’s experimental styles was influenced by comic books; he made paintings that included characters from comics, along with though balloons. Warhol was greatly disappointed after seeing paintings of an artist by the name of Roy Lichtenstein, whose work resembled comic books as well. Fearing that his comic style paintings were inferior to those of Lichtenstein’s, Warhol moved on to another motif – painting consumer goods, specifically Campbell’s Soup cans. His original 32 paintings of Campbell’s canned soup (titled Campbell’s Soup Cans) played a major role in defining Andy Warhol’s artistic career. Apart from helping him get his first solo exhibition the Campbell’s Soup Cans steered the direction of Warhol’s future work. It was because of Campbell’s Soup Cans that Andy Warhol got his first solo art exhibition, in the summer of 1962. Even though Warhol lived and worked in New York, the exhibition took place in Los Angeles, at Ferus Gallery. (Hopkins) Irving Blum, who was running the Ferus Gallery at the time, made the exhibition possible. (Hopkins) During his visit to New York, Blum was intrigued by several paintings of Campbell’s canned soup that he saw at Warhol’s studio. After Warhol explained his intent to paint a series of cans for every flavor in the Campbell’s Soup catalogue Blum proposes a show for the entire collection and Warhol embraced the idea. The exhibit, consisting of 32 paintings, ran for most of the summer and managed to stir up lots of fuss in the art scene. As Blum put it, some Los Angeles artists were “tortured by it” (Bastian 40). According to Kirk Varnedoe, “David Stewart, a dealer in Pre-Columbian art a few doors down from Ferus, teased Blum by buying about fifty cans of Campbell’s Soup at a nearby market and displaying them stacked in his shop window, with a notice to the effect of ‘Buy Them Cheaper Here’” (Bastian 40). Although other artists were somewhat hostile towards the paintings five different art collectors were ready to purchase all the paintings from the series. Blum was against the idea of separating the collection; Warhol felt the same way as well, so Blum ended up buying all the paintings in the series himself. Albeit with some controversy, the paintings still made a great impact on the art world and finally earned Warhol the title of an artist. Each one of the 32 paintings in the series (Displayed at the Museum Of Modern Art in 2011) is identical in size, 20 x 16”. The image of each soup can spans the entire height of the canvas in each painting, there is space, of about 4 inches, left between vertical sides of the canvas and each side of the can. They were all hand-painted, using synthetic polymer on primed canvas, “with the exception of the fleur-de-lis motifs along each label’s bottom edge (which were each individually printed, with varying degrees of completeness and clarity, via hand-made gum-rubber stamps)” as Kirk Varnedoe put it. The color palette of the paintings closely resembles that of an actual Campbell’s soup can, consisting of mostly red and black with a touch of silver and gold. The lettering on the can matches the bend of the can created by its three-dimensional depiction. Warhol left many inconsistencies throughout the paintings. According to Kirk Varnedoe, “The ‘white’ canvases vary in grayed brightness; the reds range from near-orange to Indian; the band encircling the label’s top, patchily filled-in with mottled gold on 31 canvases, is left unpainted in ‘Tomato Rice’; most cans have 11 fleurs-de-lis but ‘Beans with Bacon’ has 12; and so on.” The 32 soup cans at first might evoke confusion or frustration from a viewer: “Why is this art”. Gradually, after viewing the collection of canvases...
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