"Andy Warhol began as a commercial illustrator, and a very successful
one, doing jobs like shoe ads for I. Miller in a stylish blotty line that
derived from Ben Shahn. He first exhibited in an art gallery in 1962, when
the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles showed his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1961-62.
From then on, most of Warhol's best work was done over a span of about six
years, finishing in 1968, when he was shot.
It all flowed from one central insight: that in a culture
glutted with information, where most people experience most things at second
or third hand through TV and print, through images that become banal and
disassociated by repeated again and again and again, there is role for affectless
You no longer need to be hot and full of feeling. You can be supercool,
like a slightly frosted mirror. Not that Warhol worked this out; he didn't
have to. He felt it and embodied it.
He was a conduit for a sort of collective American state of mind in which
celebrity - the famous image of a person, the famous brand name - had completely
replaced both sacredness and solidity. Earlier artists, like Monet, had
painted the same motif in series in order to display minute discriminations
of perception, the shift of light and color form hour to hour on a haystack,
and how these could be recorded by the subtlety of eye and hand. Warhol's
thirty-two soup cans are about nothing of the kind. They are about sameness
(though with different labels): same brand, same size, same paint surface,
same fame as product. They mimic the condition of mass advertising, out
of which his sensibility had grown.
They are much more deadpan than the object which may have partly inspired
them, Jasper Johns's pair of bronze Ballantine ale cans. This affectlessness,
this fascinated and yet indifferent take on the object, became the key to
Warhol's work; it is there in the repetition of stars' faces (Liz, Jackie,
Marilyn, Marlon, and the rest), and as a record of the condition of being
an uninvolved spectator it speaks eloquently about the condition of image
overload in a media saturated culture. Warhol extended it by using silk
screen, and not bothering to clean up the imperfections of the print: those
slips of the screen, uneven inkings of the roller, and general graininess.
What they suggested was not the humanizing touch of the hand but the pervasiveness
of routine error and of entropy..."
- From "American Visions", by Robert Hughes