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Andy Warhol and Household Objects

by Gary Comenas

See also: The Origin of Andy Warhol's Soup Cans or The Synthesis of Nothingness

Although Warhol did not paint his Campbell's Soup Can until 1962, he had begun experimenting with using household objects as subject matter by 1960. His large canvas of an open icebox from this period shows shelves of foodstuffs and generic products against an abstract background. Another artist later associated with the Pop movement, Peter Saul, who had a solo exhibition at the Allan Frumkin Gallery in New York at the beginning of 1962, also painted a canvas of an open icebox in 1960. Roy Lichtenstein included a painting of a refrigerator in his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery from February 10 - March 3, 1962.

Warhol's icebox, like his comic book canvases, retained abstract elements - drips and smears that stylistically had previously been associated with Abstract Expressionism. It wasn't until Warhol dropped the drips that he developed a truly Pop style. When, in 1961, Warhol showed his comic book canvases to Leo Castelli's assistant, Ivan Karp, and Karp asked him about the drips, Warhol said "You can't do a painting without a drip." Karp responded, "Maybe it is possible to do it since this Roy Lichtenstein is doing it without drips. Maybe, you can make a painting in modern times without a drip."1 Emile De Antonio gave Warhol similar advice when he was shown two canvases featuring different versions of the same Coca Cola bottle.

Emile De Antonio:

"I'm a tremendous drinker, and Andy used to invite me over for a drink and pick my brains. And we'd chat. We were good gossips: both of us. And we know a great many people in common. One day he put up two huge paintings of Coke bottles. Two different ones. One was, I would say, an early Pop Art piece of major importance. It was just a big black and white Coke bottle. The other was the same thing except it was surrounded by Abstract Expressionist hatches and crosses. And I said to Andy, 'Why did you do two of these? One of them is so clearly your own. And the second is just kind of ridiculous because it's not anything. It's part Abstract Expressionism and part whatever you're doing.' And the first one was the one that was any good... And I think that helped Andy make up his mind as to - you know: that was almost the birth of Pop.2

Warhol dropped the drip and continued to experiment with using branded products, such as Coca Cola, as the subjects of his paintings. The generic, unlabeled, products in his 1960 icebox were replaced by single canvases of popular products that were synonymous with United States - such as Coca Cola, MJB Coffee (Big Coffee Tin, 1962), Del Monte Peach Halves (Peach Halves, 1962), Pontiac and Imperial cars (Imperial Car Detail, 1962 and Pontiac, ca. 1961), and Schlitz beer cans (Schlitz Cans, 1962). This reflected a trend by the emerging new artists of the 1960s, such as Claes Oldenburg, to use common objects as art. An exhibition titled "New Painting of Common Objects" took place September 25 - October 19, 1962 at the Pasadena Art Museum in California. The show was organized by Walter Hopps, previously co-owner of the Ferus Gallery, and included four works by Warhol: Campbell's Cream of Chicken (1962), Campbell's Pepper Pot (1962) and Green Stamps (1962).3

1. Patrick S. Smith, Andy Warhol's Art and Films (Ann Arbor:UMI Research Press, 1981), pp. 351 - 352.

2. Ibid, p. 293.

3. Jim Edwards, "New Painting of Common Objects," in David E. Brauer, Pop Art US/UK Connections, 1956 - 1966 (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag), p. 53.


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