Find out about the influence of Warhol’s work and where you can see his artworks on campus.
Born Andy Warhola in 1928, Warhol became a pioneer of Pop Art, the trend depicting popular and consumerist culture often in a bright and illustrative form. His works range from depictions of celebrity fame, most famously Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, and brand motifs such as Coca-Cola and Brillo.
Warhol died once in 1968, but also again for a final time in 1987. Warhol survived the near-fatal assassination on his life by Valarie Solanas which was prompted by Warhol’s failure to return a manuscript gifted to him by her in the hopes that he would read it and produce her play. Having been briefly pronounced dead after the shooting, Warhol ultimately died years later whilst recovering from surgery.
Although rare for artists, Warhol was one of the few that were famous within his lifetime and was aware of the influence of his art had over mainstream media. This enabled him to lean into the motifs of consumerist and popular culture seen repetitively in everyday life. This repetition of his art was mirrored in his own routine of life, wearing a uniform of a black, polo-neck jumper, rounded glasses and a styled silver toupée daily.
Campbell’s Soup Cans
Warhol’s main aim for his art was to be accessible to the everyday consumer, transgressing the elitist trope that art traditionally beheld. He said, “I don’t think art should be only for the select few. I think it should be for the mass of the American people” and was keen to depict the everyday, recognisable motifs of life.
Warhol’s breakthrough into the Pop Art sphere came in the 60s from a conversation over dinner with his interior designer friend Muriel Latow who contrived the idea of basing Warhol’s art of the mundane aspects of his own life, in particular his 20-year-long routine of eating a tin of Campbell’s soup and a sandwich every day for lunch, sometimes even drinking it. Running (quite literally) with the inspiration, Warhol dashed to buy every flavour of Campbell’s soup the next day, and began depicting each.
For Warhol, the repetitive nature of meticulously depicting each of the thirty-two flavours of soup by hand reflected the mass consumption of consumerist culture – despite the pieces being individually painted their creation mirrored the mechanicalness of mass-produced items with each painting being the same shape and dimensions.
Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans are currently on display within the Business School at Durham.
The lurid and garish colours of Warhol’s pop art can additionally be seen in the silkscreen prints of Flowers, currently on display in the Law School. Despite the silkscreen technique traditionally being mechanical and commercial, Warhol contrasted this and the themes of his other works by his muse being natural; an image of four hibiscus blossoms laid in the grass. Warhol sought his original inspiration for the collection from an image in the 1964 issue of the Modern Photography magazine, reimagining the photo in bold and simple shapes.
Flowers was the first piece that embroiled Warhol in a lawsuit for unauthorised use of the stimulus image, this being particularly ironic as his previous pieces focusing on logos had attracted no such legal attention. In contrast, Campbell’s soup thrived from the recognition within Warhol’s work; although initially deciding to take legal action, after seeing the public popularity of Warhol’s pieces the company embraced the art, even commissioning Warhol to paint a tomato soup can for their retiring chairman of the board of directors. The matter was settled outside of court but there still remains the irony that it was when Warhol took inspiration from nature, rather than consumer motifs, that his legal troubles arose.
The Flowers piece found within the Law School is a collection of Sunday B. Morning prints which have been printed on paper using the negatives created by Warhol. The authenticity of the creation of prints became unclear after Warhol tried to revoke his permission for their distribution, however Sunday B. Morning remain an infamous purveyor of Warhol’s work.